Bisexual students and those questioning their sexual orientation are more at risk of alcohol abuse than their gay and straight counterparts, a US study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Missouri looked at over 2,000 new students who were surveyed twice a year about their sexual orientation and behaviour for four years.

The students were subdivided into straight, gay, bisexual, mostly gay and mostly straight and were asked about the frequency with which they drank, why they drank and the negative consequences they experienced of drinking.

Amelia Talley, MU assistant professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Science said: “Bisexuals and students whose sexual orientation was in flux reported the heaviest drinking and most negative consequences from alcohol use, such as uncontrolled drinking and withdrawal symptoms.

“Those groups reported drinking to relieve anxiety and depression at higher rates than strictly heterosexual or homosexual individuals. One possible explanation is that people who aren’t either completely heterosexual or homosexual may feel stigmatized by both groups.”

Gay and straight students drank at roughly the same rate and said they were motivated by the enhancement of social situations.

But, Talley said: “The other sexual minority groups tended to report more alcohol misuse. This suggests that it may be the stressful process of developing one’s sexual identity that contributes to problematic drinking, just as people in any difficult situation in life may turn to alcohol to alleviate stress.”

Women showed the “greatest degree of sexual orientation fluidity”, she added, while men identified more as either gay or straight.

Talley said female participants “were able to admit a certain degree of attraction to the same gender without defining themselves as completely homosexual. Women may be more open to admitting to same-sex attractions because women are more likely to be objectified as sexual objects in our culture; hence, women are accustomed to assessing the attractiveness of other women in comparison to themselves.”

Talley suggested the study’s findings could be put to use “by providing a support network to help young people avoid using alcohol to cope with stress as they define their sexual identity.”

The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.