Prevalence and Correlates of Substance Use in Homeless Youth and Young Adultsedit
Substance use is higher among homeless youth than among the general population. Although substance use has been well studied, little is known about the risk factors associated with specific substances used by homeless youth, particularly in the Houston, Texas, area. Therefore, we conducted this study to examine the rates of lifetime and past-month substance use in a sample of homeless youth in Harris County, Texas, and examine the relations between substance type and race/ethnicity, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, shelter status, stress, and trauma history. Participants were recruited during October and November 2014 as part of the study YouthCount 2.0! and completed a survey to assess demographics, stress, abuse, substance use, and risk behaviors. The sample (N = 416) was predominantly young adult (13-17 years old: 55 and 18-24 years old: 361), African American (54.5%), and male (55.9%). Nearly one quarter identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning (n = 102). Over a third of youth had used alcohol (38%) or marijuana (36%) in the past month, and 36% had ever used synthetic marijuana. Bivariate analyses showed that substance use was significantly associated with race/ethnicity, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, shelter status, stress, and trauma scores. Youth in this study had lower rates of alcohol and some substance use than other samples of homeless youth, although use still exceeded national rates for housed youth. Substance use prevention interventions for homeless youth should be trauma informed and include housing navigation and stress management strategies. The most at-risk subgroups included street-dwelling and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning youth.