Theses Doctoral

The Influence of Multilevel Minority Stress on Hazardous Drinking Among Sexual Minority Women

Zollweg, Sarah

Background: Sexual minority women (SMW; e.g., lesbian, bisexual women) are at substantially higher risk for hazardous drinking (HD) than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts. There is considerable evidence that minority stressors at the individual (e.g., internalized stigma) and interpersonal (e.g., discrimination) levels are associated with HD among SMW, but minority stressors at the structural level (e.g., structural stigma) are understudied. Further, there is a wide gap in the literature on the relationships between multilevel minority stressors and HD. Additionally, there is evidence that these associations may differ by race/ethnicity and sexual identity, but relatively little is known about these differences, particularly in a multilevel context.

Methods: This dissertation includes three studies that were guided by an adaptation of the minority stress model and the social ecological model. In the first study we conducted a systematic review of quantitative research studies that examined associations between structural stigma and alcohol-related outcomes among sexual and gender minority (SGM) adults in the United States. In the second study we used data from a diverse sample of SMW enrolled in the Chicago Health and Life Experiences of Women (CHLEW) study to determine whether structural stigma at Wave 4 (2017-2019) was prospectively associated with HD at Wave 5 (2019-2022), and whether this association was attenuated when accounting for individual- (i.e., internalized stigma, stigma consciousness) and interpersonal- (i.e., discrimination, sexual identity concealment) level minority stressors. In the third study we used data from Waves 4 and 5 of the CHLEW study to examine whether associations between multilevel minority stressors (i.e., internalized stigma, stigma consciousness, discrimination, sexual identity concealment, structural stigma) and HD varied by race/ethnicity and sexual identity.

Results: The systematic review included 11 studies. There was moderate to strong support for a positive association between structural stigma and poor alcohol-related outcomes among SGM people, with differences by gender, sexual identity, race, and ethnicity. All studies used cross-sectional designs, and nearly half utilized non-probability samples. Transgender and nonbinary people, SGM people of color, and sexual identity subgroups beyond gay, lesbian, and heterosexual were underrepresented. Multilevel stigma and resiliency factors were understudied. In the second study, structural stigma was positively associated with HD alone, and when combined with interpersonal-level minority stressors. With the addition of individual-level minority stressors, the association between structural stigma and HD was attenuated, with partial attenuation (i.e., structural stigma was still significant) in the model combining all three levels, and full attenuation (i.e., structural stigma was no longer significant) in the model with only structural stigma and individual-level stressors. Discrimination was negatively associated with HD in the fully combined model and was not associated with HD in any other models. In the third study, we found that associations between structural stigma and HD did not vary by race/ethnicity or sexual identity. However, the associations between individual-level minority stressors (i.e., internalized stigma, stigma consciousness) and interpersonal-level minority stressors (i.e., sexual identity concealment) with HD varied somewhat by race/ethnicity and sexual identity.

Conclusions: Findings from this dissertation highlight the importance of structural stigma in SMW’s HD and underscore the importance of both structural-level and multilevel minority stressors in designing interventions to effectively address HD drinking disparities and inequities among SMW. Future research is needed using intersectional approaches with probability samples, longitudinal designs, expanded measures of structural stigma, and samples that reflect the diversity of SGM people.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Hughes, Tonda L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 1, 2023