Substance use affects people of every age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and the LGBTQ community is no exception. It’s not surprising that sexual minorities, which include people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, may turn to substances because of both internal and external factors.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2018 reported that 19.3 million adults or 7.8 percent of people aged 18 and older had a substance use disorder. Of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, 2.1 million or 16.5 percent had a substance use disorder. People in the LGBTQ community, especially those who are unsure of their sexual identity, are more than twice as likely to abuse alcohol and other mind-altering substances than heterosexual individuals.
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Why Members of LGBTQ Community Frequently Turn to Substances
The risk of developing substance use disorder is higher for people who have experienced a traumatic event, are experiencing emotional distress and lack social support, which is often true of people in the LGBTQ community. Sexual minorities often experience challenges such as social stigma and discrimination since many people are homophobic and transphobic and are unaccepting of anyone who isn’t heterosexual.
People in the LGBTQ community may experience bullying and rejection beginning at a young age. They may have other traumatic childhood experiences, or they may experience neighborhood hate crimes as either a child or adult. They may experience discrimination in employment and housing. A survey by the Human Rights Campaign reveals that LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to report that they’ve been assaulted or bullied, and four in ten say that the community where they live isn’t accepting of LGBT people.
Young people who are struggling to define their sexuality or who are aware they are not heterosexual are often afraid of being rejected by people who are close to them. This may include their family, friends, coworkers or classmates. Those who are rejected by their families struggle with self-acceptance and loneliness and sometimes end up homeless.
Treatment Challenges for LGBTQ Individuals
Young adults in the LGBTQ community who feel that they don’t fit in among peers may feel much more accepted and at ease in bars and nightclubs. They soon discover that alcohol and other substances can numb their emotional pain, which can lead to increased use of substances. Reliance on substances to avoid uncomfortable feelings usually only works for a short while before self-medication becomes addiction.
When the decision is made to get help, an LGBTQ individual may find that it can be challenging to find addiction treatment in an inclusive environment. Some counselors may have negative attitudes toward LGBTQ clients, and a lot of programs simply don’t consider the unique needs of members of this community.
Successful Recovery for Members of the LGBTQ Community
For many people in the LGBTQ community, specialized programs can be more beneficial than attempting a one-size-fits-all approach. An ideal treatment facility may include a separate unit that welcomes sexual minorities and recognizes the unique stressors that LGBTQ people often face.
At the very least, treatment requires a safe and supportive environment with staff members that are welcoming and highly familiar with LGBTQ challenges, or mental health professionals who are part of the LGBTQ community themselves.
Recovering from substance use disorder requires learning to deal with life’s challenges without trying to escape from unpleasant feelings. For those in the LGBTQ community, recovery needs to begin in an accepting, safe space free of stigma. Many have little or no social support, but through recovery it’s possible to strengthen feelings of self-acceptance and to begin to build a support network of other LGBTQ people in recovery.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our drug and alcohol treatment programs in Los Angeles.