People identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer

Key findings

  • People identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual have relatively high rates of substance use. However, there is a lack of comprehensive data available on the associated harms for this population group.
  • Almost one in 5 (18.7%) people identifying as homosexual or bisexual in 2016 were more likely to report daily tobacco smoking than heterosexual people (12%).
  • Over a quarter (25.8%) of people identifying as homosexual or bisexual reported drinking at levels exceeding lifetime risk guidelines in 2016, compared with 17.2% of heterosexual people. 
  • In 2016, 41.9% of people identifying as homosexual or bisexual reported drinking at levels exceeding single occasion risk guidelines, compared with 25.6% of heterosexual people.
  • In 2016, 41.7% of people identifying as homosexual or bisexual recently used any illicit drug, compared with 14.5% of heterosexual people.

More information is available in the PDF DownloadPeople identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ) factsheet.

According to the 2016 Census, there are approximately 47,000 same-sex couples in Australia, an increase of 42% since 2011 (ABS 2017). This may be an underrepresentation as it is known that people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ) may hide their sexuality or gender identity due to discrimination, harassment or hostility (Australian Human Rights Commission 2014).

Box LGBTIQ1: Alcohol and other drug use by people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ)

There is a lack of publicly available and comprehensive data examining the use of alcohol and other drugs by people identifying as LGBTIQ. The AIHW’s National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) is the only national data source that specifically disaggregates by sexual identity and provides comprehensive estimates. Notably however, the NDSHS does not include estimates for people identifying as transgender, intersex or queer.

Since 2010, the NDSHS has consistently shown high rates of substance use among people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual relative to the heterosexual Australian population (Table S3.62).

Tobacco smoking

People identifying as homosexual or bisexual were far more likely to report daily tobacco smoking than people identifying as heterosexual (18.7% compared with 12% in 2016). 

Alcohol consumption

Risky drinking is more common among people identifying as homosexual or bisexual than heterosexual. Specifically, 26% of homosexual/bisexual people report drinking at levels exceeding the lifetime risk guidelines, compared with 17.2% of heterosexual people. Similarly, 42% of homosexual/bisexual people report drinking at levels exceeding the single occasion guidelines at least once a month, compared with 26% of heterosexual people.

Illicit drugs

Compared with heterosexual people, in the previous 12 months homosexual/bisexual people were:

  • 5.8 times as likely to use ecstasy (11.0% compared to 1.9%)
  • 5.8 times as likely to use meth/amphetamines (6.9% compared to 1.2%)
  • 3.7 times as likely to use cocaine (8.9% compared to 2.4%)
  • 3.2 times as likely to use cannabis (31.4% compared to 9.7%)
  • 2.8 times as likely to misuse pharmaceuticals (12.0% compared to 4.3%) (Figure LGBTQI1).

After adjusting for differences in age, people who were homosexual or bisexual were still far more likely than others to smoke daily, consume alcohol in risky quantities, use illicit drugs and misuse pharmaceuticals (AIHW 2017).

There were no significant changes in drug use among people identifying as homosexual or bisexual aged 14 and over between 2013 and 2016. Since 2010, daily smoking has declined from 28% to 18.7% in 2016 but cannabis and cocaine use are increasing—recent cannabis use increased from 26% to 31% in 2016 and cocaine increased from 4.4% to 8.9% (AIHW 2017).

People who Inject Drugs (PWID)

Responses from the 2018 Australian Needle Syringe Program survey show that 4% of respondents identified as homosexual and 9% as bisexual. Less than 1% of respondents identified as transgender (Heard et al. 2019). More information on injecting drug users is available in the people who inject drugs page.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017. Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2071.0. Canberra: ABS, Viewed 9 May 2018.

Australian Human Rights Commission 2014. PDF DownloadFace the facts: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people. Sydney: AHRC, Viewed 3 November 2017.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2017. National drug strategy household survey 2016: detailed findings. Drug statistics series no. 31. Cat. no. PHE 214. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 December 2017.

Heard S, Iversen J, Geddes L & Maher L 2019. Australian Needle Syringe Program Survey National Data Report 2014-2018: Prevalence of HIV, HCV and injecting and sexual behaviour among NSP attendees. Sydney: Kirby Institute, UNSW.