LMU Newsroom

In the aftermath of the deadly Pulse nightclub shooting, the most violent attack on the LGBT community in US history, the perception that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are more likely to drink or use drugs to cope with the social stigma and stress associated with the targeted shooting may itself have promoted greater alcohol and drug abuse among these groups in the aftermath of the shooting, according to a Loyola Marymount University study.

The study adds a new twist to previous research on alcohol and drug use among the LGB population, which has mostly focused on the role that “sexual minority stress” plays in causing higher rates of substance use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Researchers surveyed more than 300 LGB individuals not involved in the Pulse shooting in the weeks following the attack and, consistent with previous work on sexual minority stress, 26 percent of respondents reported using alcohol and 7 percent reported using drugs to help cope with the shooting targeted at LGB community members.

Importantly, participants thought their LGB peers would cope with the traumatic stress of the Orlando shooting by using substances far more than they actually did drink or use drugs, with 69 percent of participants saying other gays, lesbians, and bisexuals would drink alcohol to cope; 41 percent predicted drug use. Those who predicted others would use alcohol or drugs were themselves far more likely to do so: 15 times higher for those who held the perception that others would drink; for drugs, it was 9 times.

“This is a classic ‘false consensus misperception,’ where people believe that others are all behaving as they do, and vice versa,” said Joe LaBrie, LMU psychology professor and leader of the research team. “What this study suggests is that the existing narrative — which says LGB people abuse alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with stresses connected to discrimination, harassment, and general intolerance they face for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual — doesn’t capture the whole picture.”

LaBrie and his colleague Sarah Boyle suggested that interventions to reduce drug and alcohol abuse in the gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities could become more effective by including information about actual rates of drug and alcohol abuse, to counter misperceptions that such abuse is more widespread than it really is.

Further, providing information about positive ways in which LGBT persons cope with stress and trauma that were more endorsed than drinking and drug use, such as posting feelings on social media and seeking social support, could lead to reducing both misperceptions about the levels of drinking and drug use to cope and actual substance use.

The shooting occurred one year ago on June 12, 2016, when an Afghan-American who claimed allegiance to ISIS entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and began shooting into the mostly LGBT crowd. The attack left 50 dead, including the gunman, and 53 injured. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11.