Newswise — Research shows that adolescents and young adults frequently overestimate the extent to which their peers drink alcohol, and that these overestimations increase risk for problem drinking behaviors, as well as dating violence. A recent study found that LGBTQIA2S+* teens likewise overestimate the frequency and quantity of alcohol use of other LGBTQIA2S+ teens, but also drink alcohol and experience dating violence at disproportionately higher rates than heterosexual, cisgender teens.

These results and others will be shared at the 45th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) in Orlando, Florida, on June 28, 2022.

“Prior research in this area with teens and young adults is with mostly or exclusively heterosexual, cisgender individuals,” said Katie M. Edwards, associate professor at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “We are not aware of any research specifically examining the associations between perceptions of other LGBTQIA2S+ teens’ drinking, actual LGBTQIA2S+ teens’ drinking, and dating violence perpetration among LGBTQIA2S+ teens.”

Edwards notes that while it is presumable that LGBTQIA2S+ teens may experience the same misperceptions related to drinking behaviors and risk of dating violence, empirical data need to confirm any such assumptions.

“Supportive programs will likely be most effective if data is based on LGBTQIA2S+ teens’ behaviors rather than heterosexual, cisgender teens’ behaviors,” Edwards said. “Extensive research confirms that interventions seeking to correct misperceptions of social norms tailored to group identities are more salient and impactful than interventions based on generic data.”

Researchers used social media to recruit 721 LGBTQIA2S+ youth in the U.S. who had dated during the previous three months. Participants completed an online survey as part of the development process for an online prevention program called Promoting Resilient Youth with Strong Hearts and Minds (PRYSHM). Participants were mostly non-Hispanic White (78%) and ranged in age from 15 to 18 years: 26% of participants identified as cisgender girls, 24% identified as cisgender boys, and the remaining 50% identified as transgender and gender diverse.

“We found that – likely rooted in experiences of minority stress such as experiences of discrimination or rejection – LGBTQIA2S+ teens drink alcohol and experience dating violence at rates disproportionately higher than heterosexual, cisgender teens,” Edwards said.

Among those surveyed, 43% of LGBTQIA2S+ youth reported drinking during the past three months whereas teens estimated that 85% of LGBTQIA2S+ youth had drank in the past three months. Additionally, misperceptions of alcohol norms and personal alcohol use predicted multiple forms of dating violence perpetration such as physical, sexual, isolation, cyber, intimidation, social control and LGBTQIA2S+-specific, including threatening to out someone’s partner.

Edwards said that social norms-based interventions, combined with efforts to reduce minority stress, hold promise in preventing alcohol use and dating violence among LGBTQIA2S+ teens.

“Programs such as PRYSHM that focus on LGBTQIA2S+ teens are critically important, but so are initiatives focused on larger contexts and systems,” she said. “For example, the higher rates of alcohol use and dating violence among LGBTQIA2S+ teens stem in part from experiences of rejection and discrimination.  Efforts to enhance family acceptance, and advocacy around laws and policies that foster affirming and safe environments for LGBTQIA2S+ teens – including in schools – are critically needed. Programs focusing on LGBTQIA2S+ teens are only one piece of the puzzle.”

* lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and Two Spirit plus (LGBTQIA2S+)