Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 167–178 | Cite as

Sexual Orientation, Partnership Formation, and Substance Use in the Transition to Adulthood

Empirical Research


Evidence suggests that lesbian and gay young adults use substances more frequently than their heterosexual peers. Based on the life course perspective, we argue that this difference may be due to the unavailability of marriage as a turning point in the lives of lesbian/gay young adults. We use data from a nationally representative sample of youth (N = 13,581, 52.4% female, 68.6% white, ages 18—26) to examine sexual orientation differences in substance use and explore whether these differences vary by romantic partnership formation in young adulthood. We find that the formation of more serious partnerships (e.g., cohabitation, marriage) is associated with less frequent substance use among heterosexual young adults, though this pattern does not hold for lesbian and gay young adults. We conclude that the partnership options available to lesbians and gay men do not provide the same health-protective benefits that marriage does for heterosexuals.


Transition to adulthood Substance use Lesbian/gay Marriage Partnership formation 


  1. Amadio, D. M. (2006). Internalized heterosexism, alcohol use, and alcohol-related problems among lesbians and gay men. Addictive Behaviors, 31, 1153–1162.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong, E. A. (2002). Forging gay identities: Organizing sexuality in San Francisco, 1950–1994. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Arnett, J. J. (2004). Emerging adulthood: The winding road from late teens through early twenties. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bachman, J. G., Wadsworth, K. N., O’Malley, P. M., Johnston, L. D., & Schulenberg, J. E. (1997). Smoking, drinking, and drug use in young adulthood: The impacts of new freedoms and new responsibilities. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  5. Bearman, P. S., Jones, J., & Udry, J. R. (1997). The national longitudinal study of adolescent health: Research design. Chapel Hill: Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina.Google Scholar
  6. Black, D., Gates, G., Sanders, S., & Taylor, L. (2000). Demographics of the gay and lesbian population in the United States: Evidence from available systematic data sources. Demography, 37, 139–154.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chantala, K. (2006). Guidelines for analyzing add health data. Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
  8. Chantala, K., & Tabor, J. (1999). Strategies to perform a design-based analysis using the add health data. Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
  9. Cherlin, A. J. (2004). The deinstitutionalization of American marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(4), 848–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chilcoat, H. D., & Breslau, N. (1996). Alcohol disorders in young adulthood: Effects of transitions into adult roles. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 37, 339–349.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cote, J. E. (2000). Arrested adulthood: The changing nature of maturity and identity. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Duncan, G. J., Wilkerson, B., & England, P. (2006). Cleaning up their act: The effects of marriage and cohabitation on licit and illicit drug use. Demography, 43, 691–710.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fields, J. (2003). America’s families, living arrangements: 2003. Current population reports, P20–553. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  14. Floyd, F. J., & Stein, T. S. (2002). Sexual orientation identity formation among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths: Multiple patterns of milestone experiences. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 12, 167–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Giordano, P. C., Cernkovich, S. A., & Rudolph, J. L. (2002). Gender, crime, and desistance: Toward a theory of cognitive transformation. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 990–1064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Graber, J. A., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1996). Transitions and turning points: Navigating the passage from childhood though adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 32, 768–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hayford, S. R., & Furstenberg, F. F., Jr. (2008). Delayed adulthood, delayed desistance? Trends in the age distribution of problem behaviors in young adulthood. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 18, 285–304.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Horwitz, A. V., & White, H. R. (1998). The relationship of cohabitation and mental health: A study of a young adult cohort. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 505–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hughes, T. L., & Eliason, M. (2002). Substance use and abuse in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 22, 263–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Johnson, M. K. (2004). Further evidence on adolescent employment and substance use: Differences by race and ethnicity. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45(2), 187–197.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2005). Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use. 1975–2004: Volume II. College students and adults ages 19–45. NIH Publication No. 05–5728. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse.Google Scholar
  22. Leonard, K. E., & Rothbard, J. C. (1999). Alcohol and the marriage effect. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement, 13, 139–146.Google Scholar
  23. Marshal, M. P., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., King, K. M., Miles, J., Gold, M. A., et al. (2008). Sexual orientation and adolescent substance use: A meta-analysis and methodological review. Addiction, 103, 546–556.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mayer, K. (2004). Whose lives? How history, societies, and institutions define and shape life courses. Research in Human Development, 1, 161–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McKirnan, D. J., & Peterson, P. L. (1989). Alcohol and drug use among homosexual men and women: Epidemiology and population characteristics. Addictive Behaviors, 14, 545–553.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Meyer, I. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Sonceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 647–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health. (2000). Health risks and benefits of alcohol consumption. Available: Retrieved Dec 2005.
  28. National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health. (2005). NIDA research reportMarijuana abuse. Available: Retrieved Dec 2005.
  29. Needham, B. L. (2007). Gender differences in trajectories of depressive symptomatology and substance use during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. Social Science and Medicine, 65, 1166–1179.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Owens, T. J., Shippee, N. D., & Hensel, D. J. (2008). Emotional distress, drinking, and academic achievement across the adolescent life course. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 1242–1256.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pallas, A. M. (2003). Educational transitions, trajectories, and pathways. In J. Mortimer & M. Shanahan (Eds.), Handbook of the life course (pp. 165–184). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1(3), 385–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rohde, P., Lewinsohn, P. M., & Seeley, J. R. (1996). Psychiatric comorbidity with problematic alcohol use in high school students. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 101–109.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rosario, M., Hunter, J., & Gwadz, M. (1997). Exploration of substance use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth: Prevalence and correlates. Journal of Adolescent Research, 12, 454–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., & Hunter, J. (2004). Predictors of substance use over time among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths: An examination of three hypotheses. Addictive Behaviors, 29, 1623–1631.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rossi, N. E. (2010). Coming out stories of gay and lesbian young adults. Journal of Homosexuality, 57, 1174–1191.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Russell, S. T., Driscoll, A. K., & Truong, N. (2002). Adolescent same-sex romantic attractions and relationships: Implications for substance use and abuse. American Journal of Public Health, 92, 198–202.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (2005). A life course view of the development of crime. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 602, 12–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Savin-Williams, R. C., & Ream, G. L. (2007). Prevalence and stability of sexual orientation components during adolescence and young adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 385–394.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schulenberg, J. E., Merline, A. C., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, P. G., & Laetz, V. B. (2005a). Trajectories of marijuana use during the transition to adulthood: The big picture based on national panel data. Journal of Drug Issues, 35, 255–279.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Schulenberg, J. E., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Johnston, L. D. (2005b). Early adult transitions and their relation to well-being and substance use. In R. A. Settersten Jr, F. F. Furstenberg, & R. G. Rumbaut (Eds.), On the frontier of adulthood: Theory, research, public policy (pp. 417–453). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  42. Settersten, R. A., Jr., Furstenberg, F. F., Jr., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2005). On the frontier of adulthood: Theory, research, and public policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  43. Skinner, W. F. (1994). The prevalence and demographic predictors of illicit and licit drug use among lesbians and gay men. American Journal of Public Health, 84, 1307–1309.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Stall, R., Paul, J. P., Greenwood, G., Pollack, L. M., Bein, E., Crosby, G. M., et al. (2001). Alcohol use, drug use and alcohol- related problems among men who have sex with men: The urban men’s health study. Addiction, 96, 1589–1601.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Umberson, D. (1987). Family status and health behaviors: Social control as a dimension of social integration. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 28, 306–319.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. U.S. Census Bureau. (2006). Current population survey, March and annual social and economic supplements, 2006 and earlier.Google Scholar
  47. Valentine, G., & Skelton, T. (2003). Finding oneself, losing oneself: The lesbian and gay ‘scene’ as a paradoxical space. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27, 849–866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Waite, L. J. (1995). Does marriage matter? Demography, 32, 483–507.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wu, Z., Penning, M. J., Pollard, M. S., & Hart, R. (2003). In sickness and in health: Does cohabitation count? Journal of Family Issues, 24, 811–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Yamaguchi, K., & Kandel, D. B. (1985). Dynamic relationships between premarital cohabitation and illicit drug use: An event history analysis of role selection and role socialization. American Sociological Review, 50, 530–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Social WorkUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA
  2. 2.Labor and Population DivisionRAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA

Personalised recommendations