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Age and Racial/Ethnic Differences in Drinking and Drinking-Related Problems in a Community Sample of Lesbians

Tonda L. Hughes, Sharon C. Wilsnack, Laura A. Szalacha, Timothy Johnson, Wendy B. Bostwick, Rachel Seymour, Frances Aranda, Perry Benson, Kelly E. Kinnison

Objective: Although research on alcohol use among women has increased dramatically during the past several decades, relatively few studies have focused on lesbians, and almost none have included sufficient numbers of older lesbians or lesbians of color to permit comparative analyses. Using data from the Chicago Health and Life Experiences of Women Study (CHLEW), we examined drinking patterns and problems in a large and diverse sample of lesbians. Method: Structured interviews were conducted with 447 community-residing adult women (ages 18-83) who self-identified as lesbians (48% non-Hispanic white, 28% non-Hispanic black, and 20% Hispanic/Latina; the remainder were in the “other” category). We used multivariate logistic regressions to examine and compare the prevalence of lifetime and 12-month problem-drinking indicators across four age and three racial/ethnic groups. Results: Unlike findings from general population surveys, in which women’s rates of drinking tend to decrease with age, we found relatively few differences across the four age groups of CHLEW respondents. We also found no significant differences between Hispanic and white lesbians on any of the lifetime or 12-month problem-drinking indicators and only a few significant differences between white and black lesbians. Conclusions: As with heterosexual women, patterns of drinking and drinking-related problems among lesbians vary by age and race/ ethnicity. However, given our findings of substantially smaller variations among lesbians than among women in the general population, research is needed that examines in greater depth the intersections between age, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and drinking. Understanding how these sociocultural factors interact with each other and with other known risk factors is important for identifying population groups at greatest risk for developing alcohol-related problems. (J. Stud. Alcohol 67: 579-590, 2006)