The LGBTQ+ Community And Addiction
Members of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community face many challenges that have contributed to a higher rate of addiction than those who identify as heterosexual.
An estimated 20 to 30% of the LGBTQ+ community abuses substances, compared to about 9% of the general population.
LGBTQ+-specific treatment centers are sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. They can help address any underlying elements that may have caused an addiction, which can be instrumental during recovery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction treatment programs that offer specialized groups for the LGBTQ+ community show better outcomes compared to non-specialized programs. Current research suggests that treatment should address unique factors in these patients’ lives, such as homophobia/transphobia, family problems, violence, and social isolation.
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Challenges The LGBTQ+ Community Faces
The LGBTQ+ community suffers from higher rates of substance abuse than the general population. This is due, in part, to several societally imposed obstacles that they face, often daily, that those who identify as heterosexual don’t.
A few of these challenges include:
- Discrimination or stigmatization based on sexual orientation
- Hate crimes, emotional abuse, threats, public humiliation, or ridicule
- Discriminatory or harmful laws
- Rejection or shame from family or friends after coming out
- Lack of access to healthcare, such as gender-affirming care
- Loss of employment or not receiving promotions
Often, LGBTQ+ individuals will turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. Substances can help temporarily numb uncomfortable feelings such as depression, anxiety, anger, or fear. Although substance abuse may appear beneficial initially, there are many long-term and negative consequences of hiding one’s feelings.
Transgender individuals are especially vulnerable to turning to addictive substances to deal with anxiety or loneliness due to negative stigma and discrimination. One study found that transgender students are 2.5 times more likely to use Cocaine or Meth and are twice as likely to abuse prescription medications (such as prescription Opioids or Benzodiazepines).
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Common Co-Occurring Disorders In The LGBTQ+ Community
One thing that may provide internal conflict for members of the LGBTQ+ community is that, often, they are forced to live a “closeted” life. This is where they hide their sexuality from others in fear of rejection. Keeping one’s sexuality a secret is a big psychological toll that may lead to mental health disorders and significant emotional distress, which can also lead to substance abuse.
Common psychological or emotional disorders present in the LGBTQ+ community include:
- Major depressive disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- High levels of stress
- Suicide attempts or self-harming tendencies
In addition to their societal challenges, LGBTQ+ individuals may also be experiencing physical or health issues related to their sexuality. These can also contribute to addiction and may include:
- Compulsive sexual behavior
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sex or HIV-related anxiety
- Sexual abuse or assault
Many individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ have a co-occurring mental or sexual disorder that either led to a substance abuse problem or is perpetuating this abuse. When considering which treatment option is best for an LGBTQ+ individual, there should be a focus on addressing any co-occurring disorders to allow for the highest chance of sustained sobriety while in recovery.
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Drugs Of Choice Within The LGBTQ Community
While many substances can be addictive, five are abused most frequently within the LGBTQ+ community: Tobacco, Alcohol, Marijuana, Amphetamines, and Heroin.
While smoking rates have declined significantly in recent years, they remain higher among specific marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ community. According to data collected by the American Cancer Society, “Individuals who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual use tobacco at higher rates than those who are straight and those who are transgender use tobacco at higher rates than cisgender individuals.” Among gay and transgender individuals specifically, tobacco use is nearly 200% more than those who identify as heterosexual or cisgender.
The LGBTQ community is more impacted by alcohol addiction that most. Studies show between 20 and 25% of the LGBTQ+ community have moderate to severe alcohol dependency; compared with just 5 to 10% of the general population. Among the LGBTQ+ community, bisexual women reported the highest rates of drinking, with 25% reporting heavy drinking habits.
Marijuana use is significantly higher among the LGBTQ+ community than the general population. In 2020, approximately 42% of LGBTQ+ adults reported past-year marijuana use, compared to only 19% of the overall population. Gay men specifically are 3.5 times more likely to use Marijuana than straight males.
According to Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Stimulant use among the LGBTQ+ population is much higher than the national average. Gay men in particular use Stimulants, specifically Crystal Meth, at much higher rates than the general population. Some studies suggest gay men are 12.2 times more likely to use Stimulants than heterosexual men. Along with gay men, bisexual women had rates of illegal stimulant use fivefold that of heterosexual women (7.8% to 1.5% respectively).
LGBTQ individuals are 9.5 times more likely to use Heroin than heterosexual individuals. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Approximately 6.7% of LGBTQ+ adults in 2020 misused Prescription Opioids or Heroin in the past year, compared to just 3.6% of the overall adult population.
Treatment Centers For The LGBTQ+ Community
One of the reasons that LGBTQ+ individuals may be hesitant to get help is the lack of resources that address their individual needs, especially in certain areas of the US.
However, there are various treatment programs that focus on the isolation that members of the LGBTQ+ community often experience, as well as the lasting effects of conducting a “closeted” life or being the victim of discrimination.
LGBTQ+-specific rehab centers help pinpoint any co-occurring mental health disorders, which helps with lasting healing and recovery. Without addressing the underlying reasons for substance use or other conditions contributing to addiction, there is a far greater chance for relapse.
Featured Centers Specializing In LGBTQ+ Treatment
Get The Help You Need
The LGBTQ+ community faces many challenges, stigmas, and other societal pressures that can contribute to a substance abuse problem or mental health condition. By entering a rehab center that specializes in LGBTQ+ addiction and care, you will feel like part of the majority rather than the minority and be surrounded by individuals that can provide support and encouragement.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction and want to explore treatment options, contact a treatment provider for help.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience