What’s Going On With Substance Abuse In The Bisexual Population?

Woody Allen once said that bisexuality “immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night.” While witty, for bisexuals it’s more proof of the ignorance and frustration they face on a regular basis. 

Aside from jokes about weekend plans, bisexuals encounter all kinds of pernicious stereotypes about their sexual orientation. They’re often told that they’re promiscuous, greedy, confused, or just going through a phase. 

Even more surprising, both heterosexuals and other LGBTQ people hold these biases. Yes, despite all the progress of the LGBTQ community, bisexuals are still misunderstood and mistreated by their peers. This feeling of being rejected by their own community contributes to the high rates of mental health issues among bisexuals.

The same is true for bisexual men. They scored higher on depression and traumatic distress surveys than heterosexuals. In addition, they have high lifetime suicide scores.

Given the link between mental health challenges and substance abuse, it’s not surprising that bisexuals are at a higher risk of substance abuse

Read on to learn more about the rates of bisexual substance abuse and to learn more about the factors behind it. 

Rates Of Bisexual Substance Abuse

The first thing to keep in mind when looking at statistics is that the numbers are pulled from a small data pool.

Scientists and researchers tend to overlook the LGBTQ community in general. This is even more pronounced when it comes to bisexuals. Even so, the available data shows how problematic substance abuse is within the bisexual community.

Substance Abuse In Bisexual Women

Bisexual women are more likely to use marijuana compared with both lesbian and straight women. Twenty-six percent of lesbian women and 10.3% of heterosexual women use marijuana, compared to 40% of bisexual women.

In terms of alcohol, 7% of lesbians and 3.5% of heterosexual women report abuse. Amongst bisexuals, this number is 12.5%. In terms of opioid misuse, these numbers are identical. More than 12% of bisexual women report misuse, compared to 7% of lesbians and 3.5% of heterosexual females.

Substance Abuse In Bisexual Men

In research, bisexual men are often grouped with gay and queer men. This category is called men who sleep with men (MSM). While practical from a research perspective, it makes isolating the rates of substance abuse amongst bisexual men almost impossible. Still, one study found that relative to gay men, bisexual men had significantly elevated cigar use

That’s not to suggest that bisexual men aren’t misusing or abusing drugs. Rather, it shows that their rates of substance use don’t differ enough from those of gay men to be statistically significant. Indeed, studies show that MSM have higher rates of substance abuse compared to their heterosexual counterparts. 

For example, MSM are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana than men who do not have sex with men. Men who have sex with men are also 12.2 times more likely to use amphetamines compared with straight men. They’re also 9.5 times more likely to use heroin than their straight counterparts. 

What Factors Cause Bisexual Substance Abuse?

There are many explanations behind the high rates of substance abuse amongst bisexuals. These include minority stress, discrimination, and homo/biphobia. While the influences might be similar, the form they take amongst bisexuals is unique and thus deserve special attention.

Minority Stress

Minority stress is defined as “the negative effects associated with the adverse social conditions experienced by individuals of a marginalized social group.”

In other words, it’s the stress members of minority groups experience when in a social environment dominated by a majority group. This could mean general social prejudice against being LGBTQ or discriminatory laws and policies

In general, social prejudice stems from the belief that identifying as LGBTQ is somehow wrong or bad. This prejudice could be subtle. For example, a receptionist at a pediatrician’s office asking a lesbian couple who the “real” mother is. Or it could be more explicit, like two men getting yelled at for holding hands. Years of living with daily stressors contribute to poorer mental and physical health. Both increase the risk of substance abuse.  

Bisexuals are particularly vulnerable when it comes to minority stress. For starters, pervasive stereotypes and negative attitudes about bisexuality are present among heterosexuals, lesbians, and gay men. This results in a “double stigma” that helps explain the high rates of depression and anxiety in the bisexual population. 

Another source of stress is coming out. As with all LGBTQ people, bisexuals don’t just come out once. Rather, it’s a life-long process of disclosing one’s sexual orientation. While these repeated disclosures are tiring for almost all LGBTQ people, bisexuals in one study described it as “exhausting.” This is likely due to the widespread misunderstandings of bisexuality coming from friends and family. 

Finally, bisexuals often lack role models who are out and bi. This is especially true in movies and television. While 52% of the LGBTQ population is bisexual, only a small fraction of LGBTQ characters are bisexual. This invisibility (often referred to as bisexual erasure) makes bisexuals feel isolated and contributes to both anxiety and depression. 

Discrimination

Young bisexuals are surrounded by stereotypes. Some say bisexuality isn’t “real,” that they’re just confused, or that they should “choose a side.” Being told that one’s sexual orientation is nonexistent or “just a phase” prolongs the sexual identity development process and leads to confusion, anxiety, depression, and anger. All of these contribute to substance abuse.

Even more concerning is the fact that higher outness is associated with higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse for bisexual women. That’s likely because of the discrimination they experience within LGBTQ organizations.

The opposite is true for lesbians or queer women. For these women, being out provides some level of protection from discrimination (and the negative behaviors associated with it).

It’s not surprising then, that bisexual people have some of the worst mental health outcomes of any sexual orientation. In fact, a 2010 study found that bisexual men and women higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders than gay men, lesbians, and heterosexuals. In fact, nearly 60% of bisexual women had a lifetime history of a mood disorder, compared to about 45% of lesbians and 30% of heterosexual women.

Biphobia

To understand biphobia, it’s important to define monosexuality. Monosexuality refers to the sexual and romantic attraction to a single gender. Examples of monosexual orientations include gay, lesbian, and heterosexual. People who are biphobic believe that monosexuality is superior. 

What’s surprising (and troubling) is that biphobia isn’t just present amongst heterosexuals—it’s a huge problem in the LGBTQ community, too. That means bisexuals face potential rejection from both sides of the sexual orientation spectrum. 

Having one’s identity questioned, ignored, and/or delegitimized understandably has negative consequences for bisexuals. For example, bisexual people are much less likely to be out of the closet than gay men or lesbians. This invisibility and lack of support may contribute to the higher rates of mental health and substance abuse problems in bisexuals.

How To Improve Bisexual Substance Abuse Rates

While the rates of substance abuse in bisexuals and the reasons behind it are troubling, there is good news. First off, one report found that LGBTQ people “were more likely than their sexual majority counterparts to receive any substance use treatment.” That’s not to say that everyone who needs help gets it, however, it’s encouraging to see this group seeking assistance. 

The medical community also has to do more to support bisexuals. Currently, physicians only receive a couple hours of training about LGBTQ health issues. In order to improve this, organizations have called for more research and more education for healthcare providers. 

Finally, societal change needs to happen. Biases and long-held discriminatory beliefs about bisexuals must be addressed. Only then will bisexuals feel supported by the LGBTQ community and benefit from its protections. 

La Fuente Welcomes All LGBTQ People

La Fuente is a substance abuse treatment center located in Los Angeles, California. We pride ourselves on being one of the few LGBTQ-affirmative treatment centers in the country. In addition to providing medically supervised detox and inpatient rehab, we offer a variety of outpatient and counseling services. 
We believe in putting LGBTQ clients at the center of everything we do. That’s why we’re always trying to learn, improve, and grow. If you’re part of the LGBTQ community and are struggling with substance abuse, please fill out the form below.

A member of our staff will contact you within 24 hours. They can answer your questions and help you decide if La Fuente Hollywood Treatment Center is right for you.

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