Addiction in the LGBTQ community

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Twenty to thirty percent of individuals who identify as part of the LGBTQ community are affected by substance abuse and addiction. In the last year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 39.1 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults used illegal drugs, and 63 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults engaged in heavy drinking as compared with 52 percent of straight adults.

Though substance abuse can affect anyone, members of the LGBTQ community are particularly susceptible because of the unique stresses they often experience in relation to coming out and/or the negative social stigmas surrounding their identities. While society has made some strides in accepting queer culture, discrimination is still a daily occurrence for many, especially in the context of medical treatment. According to a SAMHSA report, LGBTQ people are twice as likely as straight people to be denied insurance, which can ultimately affect those individuals’ mental and physical health. This discrimination in the medical community leads some individuals to use drugs or alcohol rather than seek professional help in coping with these stressors.

Many members of the LGBTQ community also face disproportionate rates of depression for many reasons, such as the reality that many gay and trans individuals still face discrimination from their family and/or peers, which can trigger feelings of isolation, anger, and mistrust. It’s not uncommon for people to get drunk or high to avoid these feelings. For example, lesbians are more likely than straight women to drink heavily, and LGBTQ youths facing family rejection are three times more likely than those with supportive families to abuse drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This unhealthy coping mechanism can easily spiral into a dangerous addiction.

Additionally, many community members contend with internalized homophobia that leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Persistent harassment and discrimination can have dangerous impacts on anybody’s self-identity, and this is especially true within the queer community. Over time, it may become easier to internalize negative sexual stigmas and hate oneself rather than continue to combat a resistant society, and getting drunk or high seems like a way to escape these negative feelings.

Yet while LGBTQ individuals are more likely than heterosexual individuals to seek treatment for their addiction, the community lacks the resources and programs needed for a successful recovery. For example, according to the National Women’s Law Center, 8 percent of LGB people and 27 percent of trans and gender-nonconforming people report having been denied health care outright. While substance addiction is considered a preexisting condition and treatment is therefore covered under Obamacare, queer people who do not have insurance may struggle to access the resources they need to fight addiction.

Regardless of your sexual orientation, therefore, it’s important to find treatment for and recover from drug addiction or alcoholism. There are many groups designed to help do just this by answering questions, providing legal advice, or just listening to concerns. Such organizations include SAMHSA Behavioral Health Resources, Family Acceptance Project, The Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professional and Their Allies (NALGAP), Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous.

Everyone should have access to quality, affordable health care. If you know someone battling addiction or struggling with their self-identity in the LGBTQ community, do what you can to provide them with the proper support.

  • Resources are available to help them not only overcome addiction, but also learn how to reject the negative stigmas placed on their self-identity. There are many things you can do to help: Promote and enforce respect from others and respect for themselves
  • Help them remain consistent with their treatment plan, such as encouraging them while they’re in treatment, or driving them to AA or NA meetings if they’re sober
  • Be understanding of their needs, cultural differences, and sensitivities
  • Avoid drinking or using drugs around them
  • Educate yourself and participate in sensitivity training to become more aware of LGBTQ issues
  • Educate yourself on drug addiction and alcoholism using free online resources such as DrugRehab.com

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