Are LGBTQ+ Individuals More Prone to Substance Use?

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People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) face many major life stressors that can negatively affect mental health, including social stigmas, discrimination, harrassment, family rejection and even violence. 

Unfortunately, these factors put them at a greater risk of developing substance use disorders and other mental health issues, compared with heterosexual and cisgender individuals. Research suggests that LGBTQ+ adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual and cisgender people to use illicit drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. In addition, they are almost twice as likely to suffer from a substance abuse disorder.

LGBTQ+ substance use statistics

Here are some quick facts we know about LGBTQ+ people and addiction, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

  • 37.6 percent of LGBTQ+ adults reported past year marijuana use, compared to 16.2 percent in the overall adult population
  • 9 percent of LGBTQ+ adults reported past year opioid use (including misuse of prescription opioids or heroin use) compared to 3.8 percent among the overall adult population
  • 12.4 percent of LGBTQ+ young adults aged 18-25 reported having alcohol use disorder, compared to 10.1 percent in the overall population
  • Only 7.4 percent of addiction treatment programs offered specialized services for LGBTQ+ patients

Data on LGBTQ+ individuals is still developing, as many federally funded research studies have only recently started asking for participants’ sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Why is substance use more prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community?

While long-term research is still emerging, recent national survey results show a clear correlation between LGBTQ+ status and substance use. Here are five reasons LGBTQ+ individuals are disproportionately affected by illicit drug use and addiction.

  1. Stigmas and discriminiation in society

Although same-sex marriage became legal in the United States in 2015, and acknowledgement and acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities has grown in recent years, members of the LGBTQ+ community still face discrimination. LGBTQ+ people may deal with homophobia from strangers, acquaintances and even friends and family. Even with a support system of loving friends and family, constantly having to consider the possibility of workplace harassment, bullying and even hate crimes threatens one’s sense of safety and is damaging to mental health.

  1. Isolation and lack of support

Due to fear of rejection from family, friends and community, some LGBTQ+ people choose to remain in the closet. Keeping their sexual orientation or gender identity a secret might allow someone to avoid stressful confrontation, but it can also make them feel extremely lonely, like no one knows who they truly are. Closeted LGBTQ+ individuals might turn to substances as a way to cope with pain and anxiety caused by living a double life.

  1. Co-occurring mental health disorders

LGBTQ+ individuals with substance use disorder are also likely to have a dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring or comorbid psychiatric disorders. Gay and bisexual men as well as lesbian and bisexual women report more frequent mental distress and depression than their heterosexual counterparts. Transgender youths have higher levels of depression, suicidality, self-harm and eating disorders than their cisgender peers. 

In addition to mental illnesses, members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to suffer from physical ailments such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis from partaking in both risky sexual behaviors and intravenous drug use. Managing these serious health complications may prevent LGBTQ+ people from pursuing addiction treatment.

  1. Internalized homophobia

Some LGBTQ+ people may internalize social stigmas against themselves, resulting in self-loathing and negative beliefs about themselves because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This may be especially true for individuals who were raised in households, religions and cultures that do not accept the LGBTQ+ community or that are homophobic. Alcohol or drug use might serve as a method to numb these emotions.

  1. Lack of LGBTQ+ focused treatment options

Sexual and gender minorities face discrimination in the healthcare setting, too. One survey found that more than half of LGBTQ+ respondents have experienced providers denying care, using harsh language or blaming illness on the patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity. To avoid such discrimination, some LGBTQ+ people may conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from their doctor or just avoid seeking care altogether.

More than half of LGBTQ+ individuals surveyed say they wanted mental health care in the last year but were not able to receive it. The most common reasons for this were fear of discussing mental health concerns, concerns about obtaining parent or caregiver permission and fear of not being taken seriously by the provider.

Finding effective treatment can be a challenge for members of the LGBTQ+ community, but the good news is that nonjudgmental, compassionate LGBTQ+ friendly addiction and substance abuse treatment programs do exist.

Contact High Focus Centers for LGBTQ+ focused addiction help 

At High Focus Centers, our mental health and substance use treatment approach focuses on helping LGBTQ+ patients develop strategies to embrace their identity, empower themselves and find acceptance.

Our LGBTQ+ focused track is designed to help address common issues that sexual and gender minorities face. We can help individuals who are struggling with substance use or a dual diagnosis develop healthy and lifelong recovery-based skills.

The LGBTQ+ track at High Focus Centers focuses on helping LGBTQ+ people:

  • Identify their authentic self
  • Find community
  • Promote advocacy and  empowerment
  • Build healthy relationships
  • Address trauma

Contact us today to learn more about how you or your loved one can benefit from LGBTQ+ focused addiction treatment.