Differential decline in illicit drug use by sexual identity among united states high school students, 2005-2017

Dylan Felt*, Xinzi Wang, Megan M. Ruprecht, Blair Turner, Lauren B. Beach, Morgan Mari Philbin, Michelle Birkett, Gregory Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: Adolescent drug use remains a significant public health concern. Sexual minority youth (SMY) are at elevated risk for illicit drug use compared with their heterosexual peers. We investigated this pattern at the national level, exploring whether trends and disparities in drug use vary over time and by sexual identity. Methods: This study used Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data, which were collected at seven time points from 2005 to 2017. Trends and disparities over time in the use of five drugs, as well as any drug use, were analyzed by self-reported sexual identity. Results: The results demonstrated a general decrease in drug use behaviors from 2005 to 2017. The greatest number of significant decreases was among heterosexual and bisexual students; the fewest were among gay and lesbian students. Disparities between heterosexual youth and SMY persisted across years, and were greater for gay and lesbian students in 2017 than for bisexual and not-sure youth. Conclusions: Our results represent the most comprehensive analysis of recent trends in drug use by sexual identity to date. Disparities in drug use remained significant despite overall downward trends within our sample. The significant decreases among bisexual students are not readily explained. We emphasize the need for ongoing research in this area, particularly given the currently volatile social position of sexual minority populations in the United States, and for culturally responsive and trauma-informed responses to SMY drug use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)420-430
Number of pages11
JournalLGBT Health
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Disparities
  • Drug use
  • Sexual minority
  • Trends
  • Youth
  • Youth Risk Behavior Survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Urology


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