The Role Of Alcohol Use In Sexual Minority Women’s Relationships: Alcohol Use Discrepancies, Relationship Status, Minority Stress, And Relationship Stress

Principal Investigators

Dates: 3/30/2016 - 9/30/2017

Abstract: In response to a recent National Institute of Health (NIH) program announcement for research on the Health of Sexual and Gender Minorities (PA-15-262) we propose to collect pilot data to support a larger R01-level application. The R01 application will focus on the role of alcohol use in sexual minority women’s (SMW;
lesbian, bisexual) relationships by examining the impact of relationship characteristics, relationship stress, and partner’s drinking on SMW drinking behaviors and drinking problems. It is well documented that SMW are at disproportionately high risk of problematic or hazardous alcohol use compared to heterosexual women: they
are two to four times as likely as heterosexual women to be hazardous drinkers. Heavy drinking is a major risk factor for accidental injury, liver, brain and heart diseases, along with some forms of cancer. Many factors amplify the risk of heavy/hazardous drinking among SMW—and the most important of these is minority stress.

Although the association between stress and alcohol use has been well-established in the research literature, little is known about the association between relationship stress and alcohol use among same-sex female couples. We will use existing data from the Chicago Health and Life Experiences of Women (CHLEW) study to: 1) Compare levels of alcohol use among SMW based on status of current relationship (not in a committed relationship, in a committed relationship-living with a partner, in a committed relationship-not living with a partner); 2) Among women in committed relationships, test associations among minority stress, levels of
alcohol use, and relationship stress (e.g., high levels of conflict); and 3) Among women in committed relationships, examine relationship stress among couples who are congruent in their drinking levels and those with discrepant drinking levels.

The CHLEW is the longest-running longitudinal study of SMW’s drinking and health (1999-present). In addition to a large number of women over age 50, it includes substantially large numbers of younger (18-25 years) women, bisexual women, and women of color. The CHLEW overcomes methodological limitations of other SMW’s health studies which have predominantly relied upon homogenous samples of young, white, highly educated SMW. Because it was designed to assess factors believed to be of greatest importance to women’s drinking—including their intimate relationships (and characteristics of partner’s drinking)—it is ideal for addressing the aims of this novel study, and for providing necessary pilot data for a planned NIH grant application.

Internal Research Support Program