USC Researcher Studies Psychology of Addictive Behavior in Young Gay Men

Published: June 16, 2011

Decision Making Compromised by Stresses Related to Sexuality, such as Bullying, Homophobia and Familial Acceptance

USC Professor of Social Work Dorian Traube builds upon current studies that show young men who have sex with men are more likely to participate in dangerous behavior, such as drug use and unprotected sex.
In a new study, published this month in the Psychology of Addictive Behavior, Traube looks at the building blocks of why young gay men are more prone to drug and alcohol use.

"The underlying factor here, adolescence when you have the bulk of development, is normally an incredibly vulnerable time," said Traube, the lead author.
"In the case of young men who have sex with men you are adding even more volatility. They may be stigmatized. Their family may reject them. They may be bullied at school. Their judgment is clouded making their problem solving more difficult."
Homelessness, discrimination and low self confidence often go hand in hand with substance abuse in this population, the study found.
The issue of growing up gay has received more attention recently because of a series of suicides that made national news and spurred a campaign called "It Gets Better," videos that encourage gay teens that life will be better when they reach adulthood.
"While the message of ‘it gets better’ is an important one, it shouldn’t have to get better," Traube said. "We need to treat our children, our teens, better. We need to build a better environment and give them better tools to make it through."
Researchers looked at the participants’ employment, housing situation, emotional state and demographic background to identify which behaviors in the decision making process related to drug use among young men who have sex with men. The subjects did not always identify themselves as gay.

The study found that stressors – such as homelessness, homophobia, discrimination or violence – made these young men feel vulnerable and less confident, leading to choices that were not always in the best interest of their health or their futures, such as drug and alcohol use.
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