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Addiction in the LGBTQ+ Community

Posted by arizonarecovery on March 19, 2020

Addiction and substance abuse appear to be a prominent issue within the LGBTQ+ community, though unfortunately not enough research has been conducted to get the full gauge of the impact that addiction has had on this community. According to Drugabuse.org, federally funded surveys have just recently begun to ask clarifying questions based on sexual orientation and gender identification to aid in data collection. Another issue with obtaining accurate data is the stigma surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. This contributes to some members in this community not feeling comfortable enough to ‘come out’. With the fear of being open with their sexuality, the demographics can also be skewed in a way that makes them not as reliable. These are important statements to consider because without the clarification of sexual orientation being added into surveys, and with keeping in mind the stigma and fear surrounding some members of this community, we may never know the full impact of addiction and substance abuse on the LGBT community. Thankfully things have started improving information wise to allow for a clearer picture to be seen, this way accurate demographics and problems surrounding this community can be known and addressed.

From information received through these surveys and other sources, we can estimate that around 30 percent of those in the LGBTQ+ community struggle with addiction to one or more substances. According to the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and other substances is two to four times higher in the LGBTQ+ community than the general population. This begs the question: Why are people of this population more likely to suffer from substance abuse and addiction than members of other communities?

There are a variety of contributing factors as to why the LGBTQ+ community faces more issues with addiction than the general population. One of these issues, as mentioned above, the fear of discrimination and stigma if a member of this community talks openly about their sexuality, often referred to as ‘coming out’. The stress of feeling as if they must hide a part of themselves or feeling like they cannot be their true self can be a trigger for substance abuse, which can in turn lead to addiction. American Addiction Centers states, “Living this type of double life can create feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Those who do choose to come out often face rejection from family and friends, and as a result often turn to substance abuse to help dull the pain”. For some members of the community, substance abuse can come from either the pain of hiding who they are, or the rejection that may occur after they tell their friends and family about their sexuality. Living life with either outcome as a possibility can lead members of this community looking for outward coping mechanisms to help cope with these stressors.

 According to the Center for American Progress, stress is the leading reason as to why we see higher rates of substance abuse and addiction in the LGBTQ+ community. Members of this community face daily struggles with discrimination and stigma surrounding their lifestyle and beliefs, which leads to the huge percentage of gay and transgender people turning to alcohol, tobacco, and other substances as a way to cope with the daily stressors in their lives. Coping mechanisms are one of the main reasons that members of the LGBTQ+ community seek out substances that cause momentary pleasure. These substances can be used as a sort of escape from reality and the hardships that are faced on a daily basis by members of this community.

 Many times, along with substance abuse and addiction, members of the LGBTQ+ community are suffering from co-occurring disorders. This also increases the urge to use substances to help self-medicate. The reason behind wanting to self-medicate is twofold. Firstly, according to the Center for American Progress, members of the LGBTQ+ community are twice as likely to be without healthcare coverage. The factors that contribute to the lack of healthcare for members of this community can be linked to discrimination in the workplace, which is where the majority of Americans’ healthcare coverage stems from. Without healthcare coverage, many members of the community cannot afford to pay the costs associated with doctor’s visits for other disorders, many of which require long term care and visits. This leads to self-medicating with the help of a substance or a combination of substances. Secondly, members of the LGBTQ+ community can and do face discrimination from the healthcare providers themselves, which can make them fear seeking treatment again, even if they see a different provider. The cultural competency is often lacking within the healthcare services, making members of the LGBTQ+ community feel as if their concerns about their own health are not being heard, or worst case scenario they are met with hostility and discrimination. With these fears and negative personal experiences, many members of this community lean on substances as coping mechanisms for the stress and underlying health issues they may have.

 Lastly, a factor that contributes to the higher rates of substance abuse and addiction seen in the LGBTQ+ community is the prevalent “bar culture” and popularity of gay clubs. Unfortunately, some of the only spaces in which members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe, respected, and able to be themselves are also places where alcohol is served and drugs are more likely to circulate. There are little to no LGBTQ+ coffee shops, libraries, activity groups, etc, so if a person in this community is seeking peer support and acceptance, they will probably end up at one of these bars or clubs even if it wasn’t their first choice to begin with. 

In conclusion; the factors that contribute to higher rates of substance abuse and addiction in the LGBTQ+ community are as follows:

  •       Discrimination and Social Stigma
  •       Daily Stressors
  •       Healthcare Disparities
  •       Co-occurring Disorders
  •       Self-medication
  •       Coping Mechanisms
  •       Lack of Cultural Competency in Healthcare
  •       Bar/Club Scene Socialization

While it may seem the statistics are stacked against members of this community in terms of addiction and substance abuse rates, there are always avenues to reach out to if you or someone you know needs help. Family and friends are great support systems, so are online resources to help in the road to recovery. Listed below are hotlines which are available to call if there is ever a need.

  •       National Drug Helpline – Call 1-844-289-0879
  •       Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  •       National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) – Call 1-800-NCA-CALL (622-2255)
  •       National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – Call 1-301-443-1124
  •       The Partnership at Drugfree.org – Call 1-855-DRUG-FREE (378-4373)

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