$3 Million to Study Lesbian Drinking Habits

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has agreed to fund a groundbreaking $3 million study on lesbian health and alcohol use.

The University of Illinois, Chicago reseach will be spearheaded by UIC professor of health systems science Tonda Hughes. This is a continuation of reseach Hughes started more than a decade ago.

Speaking about her new study, she said, “It’s one of the first longitudinal studies on lesbian health that looks at the changes over time and the various risk factors not just in drinking but other health concerns as well.”

The study will also analyze how stressful experiences such as sexual abuse, sexual assault, and discrimination contribute to excessive drinking and psychological harm among lesbians.

Hughes, who has more than two decades under her belt researching lesbian health issues, believes that the stereotypes of lesbians as alcoholics and heavy drinkers are largely based on outdated studies from the ’70s.

“There is a belief in the community that alcoholism is a widespread issue,” Hughes said. “Historically, there has been lots of interest in attention to drinking in the gay and lesbian community, with the estimates in the ’70s that a third of gay men and lesbians had serious alcohol problems. Those estimates were inflated and they were based on the research at the time, and people did not pick up on that when they reported on the findings.

“The five-year study will have sufficient data collected from 384 adult lesbians in Chicago, who have previously participated in an earlier study by Hughes in 2000 and 2004. Lesbians interviewed then reportedly had high rates of certain risk factors, such as depression, that may have led to a higher chance of drinking problems.

The newly acquired federal grant will also help continue Hughes’s research by adding 250 newly surveyed informants of 18- to 25-year-old African-American and Hispanic women.

“Our community had to rely on gay bars as a place to socialize,” Hughes said. “There weren’t a lot of safe places in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. But I think now, there is some over-reliance on gay bars to meet potential partners and friends.”

The study will also give light in developing effective strategies to combat alcohol abuse and focus on prevention and intervention.

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