People from every background and walk of life can experience addiction. Some groups of people experience a greater risk of developing substance abuse. One such group is the LGBTQ+ community. Understanding this issue can help connect individuals to the resources they need.
Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community puts an individual at greater risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s (NAMI) “LGBTQI” page, LGBTQ+ individuals experience substance abuse at about twice the rate of the rest of the population. For those specifically within the transgender community, that risk jumps up to four times the rate of the rest of the population.
Substance use in general is also higher among this population. Surveys have demonstrated that members of this community use substances like marijuana and opioids at a greater rate than the rest of the population. LGBTQ+ youth tend to consume illicit substances more than their peers. For individuals 26 and older, the use of prescription opioids for nonmedical reasons has increased. Conversely, it has decreased for those between the ages of 18 and 25.
There is not a significant difference between LGBTQ+ individuals and non-LGBTQ+ individuals in the presence of alcohol use disorder (AUD). When it comes to tobacco and nicotine products like cigarettes and e-cigarettes, however, there is a discrepancy. LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to try smoking and vaping when compared to the rest of the population. This is most pronounced among bisexual men and women.
Upon entering treatment, LGBTQ+ individuals tend to present with a more severe case. They also are more likely to present with a co-occurring disorder like depression or anxiety. This higher prevalence of addiction combined with the greater complexity of symptoms makes it important to seek treatment.
Part of the reason that the LGBTQ+ community experiences a greater risk of substance abuse is the high prevalence of mental illness within the community. Poor mental health is tied to addiction, as one can affect the other. When someone is experiencing a mental health condition, they may develop unhealthy coping strategies to dull the pain. This often includes the use of substances, which can lead to emotional and physical dependence. The relationship also moves in the opposite direction. Substances cause changes in mood and cognition, which can trigger mental health conditions.
NAMI’s “LGBTQI” page also discusses the causes of mental illness, citing studies on social and familial discrimination. Individuals who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual are over twice as likely as heterosexual individuals to develop mental illness. This phenomenon is even more pronounced in transgender individuals. People belonging to this group face mental health conditions at a rate about four times greater than cisgender individuals. Youth in this community are especially vulnerable to mental illness. Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual report feelings of sadness and hopelessness at twice the rate of heterosexual youth.
Those in the community often must face trauma stemming from rejection. A 2013 survey indicated that 40% of LGBTQ+ adults have experienced some type of rejection from someone close to them. In 2019, a survey revealed that some type of harassment or bullying affected the school experience of 86% of LGBTQ+ students. Rejection is difficult for anyone to deal with. When it is based on immutable characteristics like sexuality or gender expression, this can be even harder to cope with. Someone cannot thrive if they do not feel safe or accepted. Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ individuals must navigate these difficult relationships and situations daily.
If you are part of the LGBTQ+ community and are struggling with substance abuse, seeing the prevalence of addiction can be disheartening. It might feel like you cannot escape from it because it afflicts so many people within the community. While it is true that addiction is higher within this community, it does not mean you’re doomed. You are not alone, and recovery is possible.
Seeking treatment for your substance use is one of the best decisions you will make. Accepting you need help and gathering the courage to ask for it will set you on a path that will change your life. Starting on this path can look a little different for LGBTQ+ people. Asking for help can bring about feelings of shame and fear for everybody, regardless of their identity. Those not in this community, however, generally do not have to worry about how their sexual or gender identity will play into treatment. You should not have to worry about how your identity will be perceived and potentially affect your care.
One way you can prevent this is by seeking out a professional who has experience working with LGBTQ+ individuals. Some mental health professionals center their entire practice around helping this community. Others are part of the community themselves. Finding someone who makes it clear that they affirm a variety of sexual orientations and gender expressions can help you find a professional capable of supporting you on your recovery journey. There are also organizations focused on providing mental health resources to the LGBTQ+ community, such as The Trevor Project.
Addiction does not discriminate. It impacts the lives of people regardless of who they are or where they are from. Some groups, however, face unique risk factors and challenges that cause them to experience substance abuse at higher rates. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are at a greater risk of developing an addiction. Sage Recovery understands the need for effective and affirming mental health and SUD care for this population. We offer a range of services to both teens and adults in the LGBTQ+ community. Our services include intensive outpatient programs, a residential treatment program, a variety of groups, and wellness programming. Call us at (512) 306-1394 to learn how we can best meet your needs.