Effects of romantic involvement on substance use among young sexual and gender minorities

Sarah W. Whitton*, Christina Elizabeth Dyar, Michael Newcomb, Brian Mustanski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Sexual and gender minority (SGM) adolescents and young adults experience elevated rates of alcohol and drug use; it is, therefore, important to identify protective factors that decrease risk for substance use in this population. This study examined whether involvement in a romantic relationship, a well-established protective factor against heavy drinking and drug use among heterosexual adults, is also protective for SGM youth. Methods: This study used eight waves of data provided by a community sample of 248 racially diverse SGM youth (ages 16–20 years at baseline). Multilevel structural equation models were used to assess within-person associations between relationship involvement and use of alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and other illicit drugs. Age, gender, and sexual identity were tested as moderators. Results: Romantic involvement was associated with less drinking for all participants (Rate Ratio = 0.64) and decreased likelihood of illicit drug use for gay and lesbian participants (Odds Ratio = 0.56). However, participants reported smoking 26% more cigarettes when romantically involved. Further, among bisexuals, romantic involvement was associated with increased marijuana (Rate Ratio = 2.31) and other illicit drug use (Odds Ratio = 2.39). Conclusions: Study findings indicate some protective effects of relationship involvement against substance use among SGM youth, particularly with respect to alcohol and illicit drugs other than marijuana. However, dating may promote smoking in all SGM youth and drug use in bisexual youth. The demographic differences observed in the effects of romantic involvement highlight the importance of attending to differences among SGM youth in research, theory, and substance use reduction efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-222
Number of pages8
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018


  • Alcohol use
  • Illicit drug use
  • LGBT
  • Romantic involvement
  • Smoking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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