Lesbians are more likely to binge drink and take drugs, according to a new study in Australia.
In the survey of almost 900 women, Western Australia’s Curtin University found that lesbian and bisexual women use legal and illegal drugs more than the general population.
Drinking was also found to be higher. While 86% of the sample reported they drank alcohol, which is similar to the broader population, levels of risky drinking were higher.
Almost half of the respondents indicated they drank more than the National Health Medical Research Council guidelines recommended to reduce the lifetime risk of alcohol related disease or injury.
Nearly one third drank at levels considered risky on a single drinking occasion, also known as ‘binge drinking’.
Jude Comfort from the Western Australia Centre for Health Promotion Research (WACHPR) said some of the key findings could surprise or alarm the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
‘The findings all help in building a picture of the community and provide direction to work with this community to improve their health,’ she said.
Comfort added: ‘Smoking rates that are twice the national average are a huge concern especially as tobacco smoking is the single most preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia.’
Worryingly, lesbian and bisexual women also appeared reluctant to have a cervical smear, with 27% of respondents saying they have never had one and 8% claiming they had the procedure over three years ago.
Comfort said: ‘This is an important screening tool for cervical cancer. The numbers suggest a poor understanding that lesbians need pap smears.’
The survey also showed 35% of women reported they had experienced some kind of anti-gay behavior in the preceding year.
‘More than 20% had experienced domestic violence with a female partner, an issue that is rarely discussed in the community,’ Comfort said.
She added the lack of health promotion, prevention and intervention programs specifically addressing these and other health issues for lesbian and bisexual women was disappointing.
‘While health promotion has made significant gains in some issues at the broader community level it appears these messages have been less successful in achieving positive health behaviour in this group of women,’ she said.
The research findings from Perth are supported by similar work carried out in Sydney and elsewhere in the world.
‘We hope that this study will provide important guidance to future public health programs targeting the lesbian and bisexual women’s population. They also provide direction for further research to better understand the preventative health needs of this group,’ she said.
A copy of the full report can be found here.