Drug Abuse in the LGBTQ Community

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community has long been a part of society, but the LGBTQ acronym came about only in the 1990s.

While official recognition of these individuals as a group may have waited until the 20th century to arise, evidence of homosexuality and transgenderism dates back to 9600 BC, per Queens University Library. Over the years, the LGBTQ community has fought a strong and courageous battle against many stereotypes and a slew of hate crimes.

As a result of the discrimination and lack of acceptance the individuals belonging to this community often face, LGBTQ individuals may struggle with issues of self-esteem and self-identity. Many have and continue to turn to substance abuse as a way of medicating issues related to their sexual or gender preference and numbing their feelings toward it, however temporary the effects. This group of individuals is at a particularly heightened risk of addiction due to specific struggles many face associated with their sexual and gender identities, such as:

  • Bullying from strangers, friends, and family
  • Increased rates of mental illness like depression
  • Rejection from peers and loved ones
  • Feelings of shame over who they are
  • Struggling to find their place in the LGBTQ community
  • Being a victim of abuse

Addiction in the LGBTQ Community

lesbian couple both addicted to drugs looking for a community program for treatment

The LGBTQ community has higher rates of addiction than the general population. While just 9 percent of the general population struggles with substance dependency, 20-30 percent of LGBTQ individuals do, according to the Center for American Progress. Exact causal reasons have yet to be determined, but a lot of evidence supports the theory that their struggle to be accepted by others and their battle for self-acceptance may fuel their propensity toward substance abuse. The feelings of isolation that stem from being shunned by those who are supposed to love and support them are difficult to live with. Many choose to opt out of feeling altogether by numbing the emotional pain with drugs and drinking.

In addition, many in this community are likely to suffer from depression or other mental health issues related to discrimination from others. Substance abuse coexists in 20 percent of people with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders, per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Club drugs, like ecstasy and GHB, are particularly common substances of abuse among members of the LGBTQ community. The abuse of inhaled nitrates was 21 times more likely in gay males, who were also 4-7 times more likely to abuse hallucinogens, sedatives, tranquilizers, and stimulants per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Alcohol is a major contributor to addiction among LGBTQ individuals as well. While around 5-10 percent of heterosexual Americans abuse alcohol, a quarter of the LGBTQ community does, the Association for Addiction Professionals reports.

One of the biggest reasons for this is because many members of this community feel they have to rely on nightlife and bars as the primary way of meeting one another in safe spaces.

LGBTQ-Specific Treatment

Substance abuse treatment for someone who identifies as LGBTQ often requires a different approach. Many members of this community are reluctant to seek help. Some may be fearful of coming out to peers in support groups and even to therapists. Others may have had traumatic experiences with mental health professionals in the past that have stigmatized them against the profession as a whole. Many fail to seek the healthcare they need due to a lack of insurance or reasonable access to affordable care. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reports only 9 percent of the heterosexual population failed to seek necessary healthcare in 2013 due to cost while 12 percent of lesbian or gay individuals and 17 percent of bisexual individuals went without the care they needed for that reason.

Some people in society consider the issues the LGBTQ community struggles with to be lifestyle choices. These are not the primary views of most substance abuse treatment centers in America. Instead of trying to pray for homosexual tendencies to resolve or engage in therapy in attempts to learn to accept a life of feeling like one was born into the wrong body, clients are encouraged to embrace their identity. If they are conflicted as to what that might be, therapy can help them find out.

A high-quality treatment center will employ staff members who have extensive experience engaging with and supporting members of the LGBTQ community. Fortunately, 777 treatment facilities across the nation were offering specific treatment options to LGBTQ community members as of 2008, per SAMHSA.

Attending treatment at a facility that supports LGBTQ views and lifestyles is crucial to client success. Facilities that don’t will not feel welcoming to LGBTQ clients, and this will have a detrimental effect on treatment success. As a result, many will leave treatment before completing it. The journal of Substance Abuse and Misuse notes at least half of all individuals who enroll in outpatient treatment drop out before they even complete three months in rehab – a figure the National Institute on Drug Abuse strongly recommends as being the minimum length of treatment required for a good shot at a successful recovery.

Therapy during treatment will focus on a lot more than substance abuse. Therapy should focus on all aspects of a person’s life, including any struggles related to transgender, bisexual, or gay identity. Therapy will also address repairing familial relationships and establishing individual identity. In addition, the peer relationships that clients can form during rehab are often lasting friendships.

Since mental illness affects so many who abuse drugs, treatment for mental health issues in conjunction with substance abuse rehabilitation is crucial for recovery success. Medication management services may be needed for co-occurring mental health or medical issues, so it’s important to choose a facility that is equipped to offer these services, if needed.

Get Help Today

LGBTQ patient in specialized program for addiction treatment

With all addiction treatment programs, it’s imperative that treatment is customized to meet the needs of the individual. For LGBTQ individuals, this means that treatment should be able to address issues that are specific to this community and the environment should be welcoming of people from all backgrounds.

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