For a lesbian, gay, or bisexual youth, “coming out” is an extremely stressful, though important event that can result in improved self-esteem, social-support, and psychological adjustment.
However, a recent study found that the reactions to such a disclosure have a lot to do with the risk of those youths abusing alcohol and drugs.
Social rejection and drug abuse among gay youth
The results revealed that the more rejecting reactions a youth receives, the more likely they are to engage in drug abuse including alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use. This was true even after researchers controlled for a number of other important variables like emotional distress and demographics (race, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, etc.).
This makes a lot of sense. After finally deciding to go through with such a monumental disclosure, harsh rejections likely cause some serious damage to a youth’s self-esteem, making escape by drugs an attractive option. Although coming out can eventually lead to increased self-esteem even for this youth, the road there is not an easy one.
The good news was that accepting reactions seemed to protect youths from the harmful effects of being rejected – Social support helps!
The researchers suggested that drug abuse prevention attempts with LGBT youths address the impact of rejecting reactions to sexual-orientation disclosure directly in order to hopefully reduce their negative impact.
Here’s a video about the difficulties of coming out in high-school:
Rosario, Schrimshaw, & Hunter (2009). Disclosure of sexual orientation and subsequent substance use and abuse among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: Critical role of disclosure reactions. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23, 175-184.