LGBTQ substance abuse is a pressing concern among those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning.
Members of the LGBTQ community abuse alcohol, prescription medications, and illicit drugs at disproportionately high levels. Research shows that gay men are at heightened risk of substance use disorder (drug addiction), while lesbian women are at increased risk of alcohol use disorder (alcoholism).
How Does Addiction Affect the LGBTQ Community?
It is only relatively recently that studies into addiction have accounted for sexual orientation.
According to data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), LGBTQ adults are twice as likely as heterosexual adults to be diagnosed with substance use disorder.
The abuse of alcohol and drugs is a longstanding problem within the LGBTQ community, with rates of substance abuse and addiction running higher than in the general population.
Those who identify as LGBTQ face daily challenges and obstacles that most people who identify as heterosexual do not endure, including:
- Stigmatization or discrimination due to sexual orientation
- Shame or rejection from loved ones
- Discrimination in the workplace
- Public ridicule or humiliation
- Emotional abuse
- Hate crimes
In the face of societal pressures like those above – a routine aspect of daily life for many members of the LGBTQ community – many people turn to alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate.
Regardless of sexual orientation, self-medicating emotional symptoms with addictive substances will do nothing beyond offering some fleeting relief. Despite delivering these slim initial benefits, blotting out emotions with substance abuse can trigger negative and long-term consequences.
Just how bad is the problem of LGBTQ substance abuse in the United States, then?
According to this 2015 SAMHSA data review, these are the most commonly abused substances among the LGBTQ community:
- Tobacco: Those identifying as transgender or gay use tobacco at twice the rates of those who identify as heterosexual.
- Alcohol: Nearly 25% of those in the LGBTQ community have moderate or severe alcohol dependence.
- Marijuana: Gay men smoke marijuana at four times the rate of heterosexual men.
- Meth: Meth and other amphetamines are 12 times more likely to be abused by members of the LGBTQ community.
- Heroin: A member of the LGBTQ community is ten times more likely to use heroin than a member of the heterosexual community.
The first significant review of studies into addiction in the LGBTQ community illustrates the following trends:
- Gay men do not seem to be at heightened risk of developing alcohol-related issues.
- Lesbian women are more likely to drink alcohol than heterosexual women.
- Lesbian women seem to be at increased risk of developing problems related to heavy drinking and alcohol abuse.
The researchers highlighted a lack of evidence suggesting that the LGBTQ lifestyle directly contributes to increased substance use. Nevertheless, there is a strong correlation.
Some more recent research arrives at the following conclusions:
- Gay men and bisexual men are at increased risk of substance abuse issues.
- Lesbian women and bisexual women are at increased risk of alcohol abuse issues.
This study underscores the high rates of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and tobacco abuse among the LGBTQ community. Researchers discovered the following:
- Individuals unsure how to identify their sexuality are five times more likely to develop substance use disorder.
- Lesbian women and gay men develop severe tobacco use disorder and alcohol use disorder at double the rate of heterosexual individuals.
- Bisexual individuals are three times more likely to be diagnosed with substance use disorder than those who identify as heterosexual.
The above University of Michigan study did not include transgender participants, although this small study shows that more than twice as many transgender students abuse meth and cocaine as cisgender students.
Causes of LGBT Addiction
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that various biological, environmental, and developmental factors can cause addiction.
For members of the LGBTQ community, the following areas can all contribute to an individual’s risk profile for addiction:
- Depression, anxiety, and stress
- Prejudice and discrimination
- Emotional backlash from leading closeted life
- Co-occurring mental health disorders
- Physical health issues related to sexuality
1) Depression, anxiety, and stress
Those who identify as LGBTQ are liable to experience social prejudice in many forms that can increase stress levels.
Additionally, LGBTQ individuals are more than twice as prone to developing mental health disorders as heterosexual and gender-conforming individuals.
Many people within the LGBTQ community respond to depression, anxiety, or stress by self-medicating the symptoms with alcohol or drugs. Studies suggest that people within the LGBTQ community are also at heightened risk of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
The challenges many members of the LGBTQ community daily can bring about the emotional turmoil that often triggers substance abuse.
2) Prejudice and discrimination
LGBTQ individuals are more likely to encounter social rejection and stigma, sometimes even from their own families.
Oftentimes, these negative experiences precipitate mental health issues. When undiagnosed and untreated, this frequently leads to those suffering to self-medicate the symptoms.
This study of LGBTQ youths reported that discrimination was listed by participants as one of the primary drivers of alcohol use and substance use.
3) Emotional backlash from leading closeted life
If an LGBTQ individual feels forced to live a closeted life, they will hide their sexuality from others, typically due to fear of shame, stigma, or rejection.
Leading an involuntary double life takes a sharp psychological toll, often prompting emotional distress and turmoil.
Members of the LGBTQ community also often experience teasing, bullying, harassment, and even physical assault. This kind of backlash is often directed at transgender individuals, leading to rates of addiction among this demographic even higher than rates among gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals.
4) Co-occurring mental health disorders
When addiction co-occurs with a mental health disorder, this is known as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. A variety of studies show that members of the LGBTQ community suffer from depression and anxiety at higher rates than those outside the community.
Many LGBTQ individuals report mental health disorders or sexual disorders that may have triggered substance abuse or may continue driving substance abuse.
The most effective treatment for dual diagnosis involves simultaneously treating both conditions.
5) Physical health issues related to sexuality
People in the LGBTQ community may also experience the following physical health issues:
- Anxiety related to HIV and AIDS
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual assault
- Sexual dysfunction
- Compulsive sexual activity
Any of these issues could be a contributory factor to substance use.
How can you find LGBT substance abuse treatment, then?
Finding LGBT Addiction Treatment Center
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that tailored LGBTQ treatment programs deliver superior outcomes to standardized treatment programs.
You should first reach out to others within your community if you’re looking to replace addiction with sober living.
Ask your healthcare provider for recommendations. They may know of suitable treatment facilities near you.
An online search should also yield plenty of nearby rehabs catering to the needs of LGBTQ individuals looking to conquer addiction.
Alternatively, you could shortcut the process by considering LGBTQ drug rehab or alcohol rehab at The District Recovery Community.
Come to The District’s LGBT Rehab in California
Here at TDRC, we offer a broad selection of gender-specific rehab programs, as well as treatment programs specifically tailored for the needs of LGBTQ individuals.
We provide outpatient treatment for alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder, and we also treat mental health disorders and co-occurring disorders.
If you require more support and structure than a standard outpatient program provides, we deliver both IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs). A PHP is the most intensive form of treatment outside residential rehab, ideal if you have a more severe addiction or a dual diagnosis.
Your treatment team will personalize a plan drawing from the following research-backed therapies:
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
- Counseling (group and individual)
- Family therapy
For a whole-body approach to recovery, you’ll also have access to holistic therapies like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga.
Regardless of your sexual orientation, you’ll get the chance to build a strong foundation for sustained recovery here at TDRC. Get things started by calling admissions today at 844.287.8506.