Alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use amongst same-sex attracted women: results from the Western Australian Lesbian and Bisexual Women's Health and Well-Being Survey
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Background: The prevalence of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use has been reported to be higheramongst lesbian and bisexual women (LBW) than their heterosexual counterparts. However, few studieshave been conducted with this population in Australia and rates that have been reported vary considerably.Methods: A self-completed questionnaire exploring a range of health issues was administered to 917women aged 15-65 years (median 34 years) living in Western Australia, who identified as lesbian orbisexual, or reported having sex with another woman. Participants were recruited from a range of settings,including Perth Pride Festival events (67.0%, n = 615), online (13.2%, n = 121), at gay bars and nightclubs(12.9%, n = 118), and through community groups (6.9%, n = 63). Results were compared against availablestate and national surveillance data.Results: LBW reported consuming alcohol more frequently and in greater quantities than women in thegeneral population. A quarter of LBW (25.7%, n = 236) exceeded national alcohol guidelines by consumingmore than four standard drinks on a single occasion, once a week or more. However, only 6.8% (n = 62)described themselves as a heavy drinker, suggesting that exceeding national alcohol guidelines may be anormalised behaviour amongst LBW. Of the 876 women who provided data on tobacco use, 28.1% (n =246) were smokers, nearly double the rate in the female population as a whole. One third of the sample(33.6%, n = 308) reported use of an illicit drug in the previous six months. The illicit drugs most commonlyreported were cannabis (26.4%, n = 242), meth/amphetamine (18.6%, n = 171), and ecstasy (17.9%, n =164). Injecting drug use was reported by 3.5% (n = 32) of participants.Conclusion: LBW appear to use alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs at higher rates than women generally,indicating that mainstream health promotion messages are not reaching this group or are not perceivedas relevant. There is an urgent need for public health practitioners working in the area of substance useto recognise that drug consumption and use patterns of LBW are likely to be different to the widerpopulation and that special considerations and strategies are required to address the unique and complexneeds of this population.
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