Substance Abuse and Addiction in the LGBTQ+ Community

Understanding How Substance Abuse and Addiction Affect Members of the LGBTQ+ Community

Substance abuse and addiction can affect anyone, but certain populations tend to see higher rates of addiction. One group of people who experience significant problems with drug and alcohol abuse is the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, studies published by SAMHSA show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals are twice as likely to abuse substances and struggle with addiction than heterosexual individuals.[1]

Unfortunately, members of the LGBTQ+ community face many challenges that prevent them from seeking treatment, and are often hesitant to seek help. LGBTQ-specific addiction treatment centers are available across California, and they can help you or a loved one overcome your challenges and achieve lasting recovery. Speak with a caring admissions coordinator today to see if our substance abuse treatment program in Vista, CA is right for you.

Why is Substance Abuse Such a Huge Problem in the LGBTQ+ Community?

Members of the LGBTQ+ community face social stigma, high rates of mental health conditions, and other challenges that are not a common experience among heterosexual individuals. The concerning rates of substance abuse and addiction among people who identify as LGBTQ+ can be attributed to the various challenges people in this community face on a day-to-day basis.

Challenges Endured by the LGBTQ+ Community

Being a part of a sexual minority comes with a host of difficulties and societal stigmas. A few challenges that are unique to people in this community are:

  • Stigmatization or discrimination due to sexual orientation
  • Rejection from friends, family, coworkers, or loved ones after coming out about one’s sexuality
  • Increased risk of hate crimes, threats, ridicule, or public humiliation
  • Internalized homophobia or transphobia
  • Lack of adequate resources for the LGBTQ+ community such as gender-affirming care

Challenges such as these can cause feelings of shame, anxiety, fear, and self-hate. Some people may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, or numb, these unpleasant feelings.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Before coming out, many people live secret or closeted lives which causes emotional and psychological distress. The feeling of having to hide who you truly are can take a serious toll on anyone, but when you feel rejected by your community, overcoming these feelings can be extremely difficult and isolating. This distress is a prominent reason why so many people who identify as LGBTQ+ have mental health conditions.

Common mental health conditions and co-occurring disorders in the LGBTQ+ community include:

  • Major depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Mental health conditions can substantially increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction. People with co-occurring conditions are also more likely to have more severe substance use disorders.

substance abuse in the LGBTQ+ community

Rates of Substance Abuse and Addiction in LGBTQ+ Individuals

The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) confirms that LGBTQ+ individuals are, on average, twice as likely to abuse substances and struggle with addiction. The opioid epidemic has affected the LGBTQ+ community greatly. 9% of people identifying as LGBTQ+ report abusing prescription opioids while only 3.8% of the overall adult population report prescription opioid abuse.

The NSDUH also found that LGBTQ+ people often enter treatment with more severe substance use disorders, requiring longer, more comprehensive treatment. When compared to the general population, the CDC reports that the LGBTQ+ community is more likely to:

  • Abuse drugs and alcohol
  • Not abstain from substance use
  • Continue drinking heavily or using drugs into later life

Commonly Abused Substances in the LGBTQ+ Community

Any substance that alters the mind or mind can be addictive, but some substances are more widely abused in the LGBTQ+ community than others. These include:

  • Tobacco – LGBTQ+ identifying individuals use 200% more tobacco than heterosexual people. While people rarely seek addiction treatment for tobacco, tobacco is considered one of the most difficult substances to quit and one of the most harmful in the long term.
  • Alcohol – Up to a quarter of the LGBTQ+ community is thought to have a moderate to severe alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is often served at LGBTQ+ social events, shows, and clubs, making it widely abused among this population. Alcohol is also legal and widely accepted in American culture, making it difficult for some people to decipher whether or not they actually have a drinking problem.
  • Prescription and illicit stimulants – Both prescription stimulant abuse (such as Adderall or Vyvanse) and illicit stimulant abuse (such as meth and cocaine) are substantial problems in the LGBTQ+ community. For example, gay men are four times more likely to abuse meth than straight men.
  • Heroin and fentanyl – Opioids like heroin and fentanyl are responsible for the majority of drug overdose deaths in the United States. LGBTQ+ individuals are more than nine times more likely to use heroin than heterosexuals.

Barriers to Treatment for LGBTQ+ Patients

Many people who struggle with addiction refuse or delay getting help for their addiction, but members of the LGBTQ+ community are faced with unique barriers that may prevent them from seeking help. One of the reasons for this hesitancy is the fear of being judged by peers in treatment or the fear of inadequate or un-accepting care from medical or psychiatric professionals. Past experiences with homophobia, judgmental counselors, or harassment from peers may also prevent these individuals from opening up and being who they are while in treatment, thereby hindering their ability to recover.

Additionally, many traditional treatments fail to address the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community, such as family problems, homophobia or transphobia, social isolation, harassment, stigma, and violence. Luckily, most of the addiction treatment industry in Southern California is extremely accepting and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and are dedicated to high standards of care.

LGBTQ+ friendly substance abuse treatment

LGBTQ+ Friendly Addiction Treatment and Recovery Programs

LGBTQ+ treatment should address unique factors in patients’ lives, such as family issues, mental health, violence, social isolation, and homophobia/transphobia. Treatment must also address physical health factors, including the need for gender-affirming care, STD testing, and HIV/AIDS screening.

After detoxing, patients participate in a range of therapies that provide them with healthy skills for sobriety. Therapies that are proven effective for people identifying as LGBTQ+ include:

  • Motivational Interviewing (MI)
  • Social support therapy (group therapy or group processing, preferably with other LGBTQ+ patients)
  • Contingency Management (CM)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Family Behavior Therapy (FBT)

ARISE Treatment Center’s exclusive inpatient residential rehab in Southern California is designed to be a safe, nurturing environment for anyone to begin their recovery journey. Patients typically start their treatment program at this level of care because it offers a highly structured and supportive approach to recovery before transitioning to an outpatient program.

After treatment, patients are encouraged to continue engaging in therapeutic activities and support groups, such as:

  • Sober living
  • Alumni program
  • A 12-Step group such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Self-help group or 12-Step alternative
  • Mental health counseling
  • Medication management

Find Help for Yourself or an Addicted Loved One Today

Here at Arise Treatment, we provide evidence-based and personally-tailored treatments that are created to help you get sober and stay sober. Our team is committed to helping you achieve a healthy lifestyle by offering addiction treatment programs that promote whole-person recovery.

Our compassionate therapists will gently guide you through evidence-based therapies that help you address the root cause of your substance abuse, help you embrace healthier lifestyle choices and coping skills, and develop a personalized relapse prevention plan so you can achieve long-term sobriety.

Get the help you need and deserve today by speaking with one of our qualified admissions specialists. Call now to begin.


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