College is a time for young adults to understand their own identity but that exploration could lead to troublesome behavior. That's especially true for college students whose sexuality is not clearly defined.

In a new study, college students whose sexuality was not clearly defined were more likely to misuse alcohol than other students who had clearly defined sexualities, be it heterosexual or homosexual. Understanding possible alcohol problems for bisexuals or students whose sexuality was still being developed can improve intervention programs and support groups.

The study was led by Amelia Talley, PhD, assistant professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri, and involved over 2,000 incoming college students for four years.

Researchers had students fill questionnaires during the fall and spring semesters in regards to sexual self-identification, attraction and sexual behaviors. Some of the sexual orientation groups that students self-identified themselves as included exclusively heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, exclusively homosexual, mostly homosexual and bisexual.

In addition to the questions about sexuality and sex behaviors, researchers surveyed the students about alcohol habits including alcohol use, reasons and negative consequences due to alcohol use.

Females had the greatest range of sexual orientation. Dr. Talley believes that women may be more open to the idea of being attracted to the same sex because in American society, women tend to be sexualized, be it in advertising or through portrayals of celebrities. Women are more likely to judge the beauty of another woman to themselves, making the idea of being attracted to a woman easier for incoming female college students.

Incoming male college students were more likely to identify themselves as exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. Dr. Talley notes that the male college students may not think that being mostly heterosexual, with a minor degree of sexual attraction to the same sex, is an option. For males, it may seem like an "either or" situation which could cause anxiety, according to Dr. Talley.

Students whose sexual identity was exclusively homosexual or heterosexual had similar drinking rates and similar motivation behind drinking habits; to enjoy social experiences more. The sexual minority groups, such as bisexuality, mostly homosexual or mostly heterosexual, were more likely to misuse alcohol compared to the exclusive sexuality groups, note researchers. The researchers noted that sexual minorities were among the heaviest drinkers and also faced the most negative consequences from alcohol use.

The researchers believe the stress in understanding sexuality could be leading to the troubling alcohol use. The group of sexual minorities could be using alcohol as a way to cope with all the changes in college. The findings of the study could be used to help create support groups educating incoming college students about their sexuality and ways to avoid alcohol abuse.

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