LGBTQ Youth Experience High Rates Of Addiction
Studies have shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth experience higher rates of substance abuse and addiction when compared to the general population. The minority stress they experience along with bullying, harassment, and the feeling of not fitting in can be too much for a young person to handle. If they don’t have a good support system in place, they may turn to illegal substances or underage drinking.
Some LGBTQ+ teens often use prescription drugs. Teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may abuse Adderall while teens with panic disorder or anxiety may abuse Xanax or Valium. Studies also found that LGBTQ+ teens were more likely to smoke Marijuana and drink underage over the general teenage public.
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Risk Factors For Developing Substance Use Disorder
Unfortunately, there are many risk factors for LGBTQ+ youth. Teens may experience one or more risk factors at a time, but the more they’re going through, the more likely they are to rely on substances as a form of self-medication.
Bullying And Harassment
While in recent years being a part of the LGBTQ+ community has become much more acceptable, there is still a stigma that is negatively impacting the lives of many youth in America today. LGBTQ+ students may feel excluded from activities or social groups, or people may avoid talking to them just because they’re LGBTQ+.
LGBTQ+ teens are 48% more likely to be excluded in their communities and 51% more likely to be verbally harassed. On top of that, the chance of physical assault increases by 17% when someone comes out of the closet or is suspected to be LGBTQ+ by their fellow peers.
According to End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin & Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, 90% of LGBTQ+ students hear anti-LGBTQ+ comments in their school, and on average an LGBTQ high school student will hear 26 anti-gay slurs per day, a third of which come from a school staff member.
Almost 75% of transgender youth report experiencing sexual harassment at school based on their gender identity and expression, and 84% of LGBTQ youth report verbal harassment at school because of who they are. Over a quarter of LGBTQ+ students end up dropping out of school because of the harassment they experience.
Coming Out And Parental Support
Whether someone is LGBTQ+ or not, the support of a parent is crucial to one’s adolescent years. Without the support of a parent, students often feel more excluded and less loved. While 79% of students feel comfortable turning to a parent or adult family member for help, only 49% of LGBTQ+ students feel this way. If they’re being harassed at school, over half of LGBTQ+ students don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about it.
How a parent reacts when someone comes out as LGBTQ+ is also vital to their mental wellbeing. When a parent is supportive of their child’s gender identity and sexual orientation, they’re more likely to be happy and healthy. Studies show that a teenager’s risk of substance abuse decreases when their family accepts them.
Unfortunately, many parents aren’t supportive of their children’s identity. Because of this, many children choose to stay in the closet out of fear. Bottling up these emotions only increases stress, depression, and even anger in LGBTQ+ youth.
Many LGBTQ+ students who choose to come out to their parents and have a negative experience include reactions of disapproval, mistreatment, violence, and more. Some are even forced to leave their homes, resulting in homelessness. Up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+, showing just how frequently they’re forced out of their homes at a young age.
Minority stress is when members of a group are stigmatized by mainstream society because of one’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, increasing one’s vulnerability to psychological distress. Even LGBTQ youth who have supportive friends and families still experience minority stress. Minority stress may manifest in different ways, but commonly occurs when something happens within the community. For example, if a young LGBTQ+ person dies because of a hate crime, many LGBTQ+ people may experience minority stress because of the traumatic event.
Dealing with this weight and stress can often be too much for LGBTQ+ youth, especially those who don’t have great support system and those who aren’t out of the closet.
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Stereotypes And Peer Influence
Within the LGBTQ+ community there are many harmful stereotypes, a lot of which surround gender identity and presentation. When someone doesn’t present as the traditional gender they were assigned at birth, they may experience more harassment and bullying. For example, when gay and bisexual women present more masculine, they experience more stigma than gay and bisexual women who present more feminine.
When it comes to peer influence, who LGBTQ+ youth hangs out with plays a huge role in whether they use substances. If they have supportive friends that don’t use drugs, their risk is much lower than if they have friends who do. Their risk is also increased if they hang out with LGBTQ+ people older than them or frequently visit settings like bars or nightclubs.
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Preventing Substance Abuse In LGBTQ Youth
Substance abuse can be prevented within the LGBTQ community, but it takes a lot of effort by outside forces, as there are so many risk factors for LGBTQ+ youth. Supportive families, friends, and healthy school systems are often the best ways to prevent LGBTQ+ students from seeking out substances.
When schools have anti-bullying policies, safe spaces, and health curriculum in place that educates students about LGBTQ+ topics, the risk goes down for all LGBTQ+ students at that school. Having counselors that are well versed in these topics (or LGBTQ+ counselors) can also assist with risk reduction.
Are There Specific Treatment Options For LGBTQ Youth?
Because of the discrimination that LGBTQ+ youth face when compared to the general public, it’s important that their treatment options reflect that. Having LGBTQ+ specific treatment options improves the chance for successful change and long-term sobriety. When LGBTQ+ people have like-minded peers and medical professionals who understand what they’re going through, they’re more likely to open up and engage in conversation. This can be instrumental to one’s success in a treatment facility.
The risk of substance abuse for LGBTQ+ youth is, on average, 190% higher when compared to the general population. LGBTQ+ women are 400% more at risk while bisexual women specifically are 340% more at risk. Receiving treatment is the best way to ensure successful sobriety.
Don’t wait to seek treatment. Contact a treatment provider today to explore available treatment options.
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Megan Prevost earned a B.F.A. in Creative Writing for Entertainment from Full Sail University. Her work has appeared in many different publications, and she’s held columns and guest spots on LGBTQ+ and entertainment websites. Previously, she’s written copy and content for both law firms and healthcare clinics. She is proud to be able to use her writing ability to help the addiction and mental health communities.
- More from Megan Prevost
- Rhode Island Prevention Resource Center. LGBTQ Youth and Substance Abuse Fact Sheet. Retrieved 08/12/2021 at http://www.riprc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/LGBTQyouth-final.pdf
- Addiction. (2008). Sexual orientation and adolescent substance abuse: a meta-analysis and methodological review. Retrieved August 12th, 2021 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2680081/
- Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Preventing Substance Abuse Among LGBTQ Teens. Retrieved August 12th, 2021 at https://www.hrc.org/resources/preventing-substance-abuse-among-lgbtq-teens
- End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin & Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. (2013). LGBT Youth Facts/Statistics. Retrieved August 12th, 2021 at https://www.courts.oregon.gov/programs/crb/training/Training%20Center/W11.YouthRiskFactorsHO.pdf
Certified Addiction Professional
Theresa Parisi received her bachelor’s degree in Addiction Science and Psychology from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota in 2010. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. She is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) by the Florida Certification Board. Theresa is passionate about recovery having gone through addiction herself.
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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.