Medical, Nonmedical, and Illegal Stimulant Use by Sexual Identity and Gender

Published:September 24, 2020DOI:


      Major knowledge gaps regarding medical and nonmedical prescription stimulant use and illegal stimulant use (i.e., cocaine/crack/methamphetamine) by sexual identity and gender have implications for individuals’ health and well-being. This study improves stimulant use measurement by differentiating the type of stimulant use and focusing on lesbian, gay, and bisexual subpopulations.


      Data were pooled for adults in the 2015–2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (n=126,463; analyzed in 2019). Gender-stratified logistic regression models examined associations between sexual identity and past-year illegal stimulant use. Gender-stratified multinomial logistic regression models estimated odds of (1) medical use only versus no past-year prescription stimulant use, (2) any nonmedical stimulant use versus no past-year use, and (3) any nonmedical stimulant use versus medical use only.


      Illegal stimulant use varied by sexual identity (men: gay, 9.2%; bisexual, 7.5%; heterosexual, 3.2%; women: gay/lesbian, 3.2%; bisexual, 7.8%; heterosexual, 1.5%), as did nonmedical prescription stimulant use. Relative to same-gender heterosexuals, gay (AOR=2.61, 95% CI=2.00, 3.40) and bisexual (AOR=1.70, 95% CI=1.24, 2.33) men had higher odds of past-year illegal stimulant use, as did gay/lesbian (AOR=1.63, 95% CI=1.16, 2.28) and bisexual (AOR=2.70, 95% CI=2.23, 3.26) women. Sexual minorities reported higher odds of nonmedical prescription stimulant use than heterosexuals. Any nonmedical prescription opioid use was reported by 26.4% of people who reported nonmedical stimulant use and 27.0% of people who reported illegal stimulant use.


      Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals had a higher prevalence of stimulant use than their heterosexual counterparts. This has important implications for health disparities, especially given the high levels of polysubstance use. Taking a multilevel approach is crucial to reduce stimulant-related harms for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals.
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