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LGBTQ and Addiction

Rates of drug abuse and addiction in the LGBTQ+ community are disturbingly higher than those of other groups. Discrimination, societal pressures and co-occurring disorders are just a few potential triggers for drug abuse in this population.

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The LGBTQ Community and Addiction

Members of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community face a number of challenges that have contributed to a high rate of addiction.

An estimated 20 to 30 percent of the LGBTQ+ community abuses substances, compared to about 9 percent the population as a whole.

LGBTQ-specific treatment centers are sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and address any underlying aspects that may have caused an addiction. This is instrumental to the recovery process. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction treatment programs that offer specialized groups for the LGBTQ community show better outcomes for those clients 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.

Challenges the LGBTQ+ Community Faces

The LGBTQ+ community suffers from higher rates of substance abuse than the population as a whole. This is due in part to a number of societally imposed obstacles that they face, often on a daily basis, that those who identify as heterosexual typically don’t.

A few of these challenges include:

  • Discrimination or stigmatization based on sexual orientation
  • Hate crimes; emotional abuse, threats, public humiliation or ridicule
  • Rejection or shame from family or friends after coming out
  • Loss of employment or not receiving promotions
  • Internalized homophobia or self-hatred

Oftentimes, LGBTQ+ individuals will turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate from the prejudice they face in everyday society. Substances can help temporarily numb uncomfortable feelings they may be experiencing, such as depression, anxiety, anger or fear. Although substance abuse may appear to be beneficial initially, there are many long-term, negative consequences from hiding your feelings.

Moreover, transgender individuals are especially vulnerable to turning to addictive substances to deal with feelings of anxiety or loneliness due to negative stigma and discrimination. In fact, one study found that transgender students are 2.5 times more likely to use cocaine or meth; they are also twice as likely to abuse prescription medications (such as prescription opioids or benzodiazepines).

Common Co-Occurring Disorders Among LGBTQ+ Community

An aspect that may provide internal conflict for members of the LGBTQ+ community is that oftentimes, they are forced to live a “closeted” life. This is where they hide their sexuality from others in fear of rejection, and lead a double life in regards to acting on their sexual orientation. Keeping one’s sexuality a secret is a big psychological toll that may lead to the development of mental health disorders and significant emotional distress.

Common psychological or emotional disorders among the LGBTQ+ community include:

  • Major depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • High levels of stress
  • Suicide attempts or self-harming tendencies

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In addition to the societal challenges they face, an LGBTQ+ individual may also be experiencing physical or health issues related to their sexuality. These can also contribute to an 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 LGBTQ+ Community

While many substances can be addictive, there are five that are abused most frequently within the LGBTQ+ community.

  • Tobacco

    Gay and transgender individuals use tobacco up to 200 percent more than those who identify as heterosexual.

  • Alcohol

    Between 20 and 25 percent of the LGBTQ+ community have moderate to severe alcohol dependency.

  • Marijuana

    Gay men are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana than straight males.

  • Amphetamines

    Members of the LGBTQ+ community are 12.2 times more likely to use amphetamines.

  • Heroin

    LGBTQ+ individuals are 9.5 times more likely to use heroin than heterosexual individuals.

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Treatment Centers For LGBTQ+ Community

One of the reasons that LGBTQ+ individuals may be hesitant to get help is the lack of resources available to them that address their individual needs, especially in certain areas of the United States.

Thankfully, 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 reason to use or any conditions that may be contributing to an addiction, there is a far greater chance for relapse.

Get The Help You Need

The LGBTQ+ community’s rate of addiction is concerning, as well as the various challenges and obstacles these individuals face on a daily basis that can contribute to a substance abuse problem.

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, please contact a dedicated treatment provider for help.


Cove Forge Behavioral Health Center

Williamsburg, PA


MeadowWood Behavioral Health

New Castle, DE


Banyan Delaware

Milford, DE


Ambrosia Treatment Center – Northeast

Philadelphia, PA

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