Abstract: Are Social Supports Always Protective? a Seven-City Study on Heavy Drinking Among Gender and Sexual Minority Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Are Social Supports Always Protective? a Seven-City Study on Heavy Drinking Among Gender and Sexual Minority Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness

Friday, January 13, 2023
South Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Brandi Armstrong, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Hsun-Ta Hsu, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Jama Shelton, PhD, Assistant Professor, City University of New York, New York, NY
Anamika Barman-Adhikari, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Robin Petering, PhD, Founder, Senior Researcher, Lens Co, Los Angeles, CA
Sarah Narendorf, PhD, Associate Professor of Social Work and Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development, University of Houston, TX
Kristen Prock, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, Whitewater, WI
Kristin Ferguson, PhD, Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Diane Santa Maria, DrPH, Associate Professor, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX
Kimberly Bender, PhD, Professor, University of Denver, CO
Background and Purpose: Heavy drinking, defined as having five or more drinks of alcohol in a row within a couple of hours, is prevalent among young adults experiencing homelessness (YAEH). Gender and sexual minorities (GSM) are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and are especially vulnerable to heavy drinking. Research on heavy drinking behavior among GSM YAEH remains scarce. Social supports, in general, are protective in reducing individuals’ risk of heavy drinking involvement. However, as suggested by the risk amplification and abatement model (RAAM), supports from different sources (e.g., supports from pro-social peers vs. from deviant peers) may have different implications on GSM YAEH’s heavy drinking behaviors. This study aims to examine whether and how GSM YAEH’s different social support sources (i.e., types of social network members providing supports) may be associated with their heavy drinking behavior. A better understanding of this topic will inform future network-based heavy drinking risk reduction intervention development and delivery targeting GSM YAEH.

Methods: This study used the Homeless Youth Risk and Resilience Survey (HYRRS) data originally collected from 1,348 YAEH aged 18-24 in seven U.S. cities. Only YAEH self-identified as gender and/or sexual minority (N=425) from the parent project were included in the study. The HYRRS involves questions covering YAEH’s individual characteristics (e.g., demographics and drinking behaviors) and their social network composition (e.g., network member types). Logistic regression models were conducted to explore the relationships between different social support sources and GSM YAEH’s past 30-day heavy drinking behavior, controlling for demographics, homeless experiences, past trauma exposure, and mental illness history.

Results: Over 40 percent of GSM YAEH were involved in heavy drinking in the past 30 days. Past street victimization history was positively associated with GSM YAEH’s involvement in heavy drinking. Having at least one street-based peer in the network (OR=1.95; 95% CI=1.21, 3.16) and at least one home-based peer (OR=1.67; 95% CI=1.03, 2.72) in the network who provided social supports were both associated with GSM YAEH’s heavy drinking risk.

Conclusion and Implications: Consistent with previous literature, GSM YAEH in this study were at a higher risk of heavy drinking as compared to their non-GSM peers (40% vs. 31%; χ2=10.8). However, contradictory to previous research and RAAM, this study failed to identify the protective role that social supports may play in reducing GSM YAEH’s heavy drinking behavior. In fact, receiving social supports, regardless from pro-social (i.e., home-based peers) or deviant social ties (i.e., street-based peers), were associated with elevated risk of heavy drinking among GSM YAEH. Based on our findings, trauma informed care geared toward street victimization may be critical in addressing GSM YAEH’s heavy drinking risk. Network-based interventions aiming to reduce heavy drinking among GSM YAEH should be cautious of the potential risk implications supportive ties may have. Future studies should also explore and identify social supports sources that are likely to be protective of GSM YAEH’s heavy drinking.