June marks Pride Month, a time to celebrate and honor the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning ( LGBTQ+) community. What began as a Memorium of the Stonewall Uprising (also referred to as the Stonewall Riots) in June 1969—when members of the LGBT community responded to the Stonewall Inn police raids and violence in protest—Pride month has evolved and grown exponentially since it began in the mid-1990s.
Now, Pride month has become a time of celebration and awareness, exploring the local, national, and international historic events, current climate, and future of the LGBTQ+ community. And, a critical component of the awareness aspect of LGBTQ+ Pride month is better understanding the barriers and disparities faced by persons within this community.
While many members of the LGBTQ+ community have incredible strength and resiliency, they also have—and continue—to navigate unique challenges. For example, research demonstrates that people within this community are at higher risk for developing both mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders (SUDs). In fact, studies have shown that LGB adults are more than twice as likely to experience a mental health condition (compared to heterosexual adults). And, nearly twice as likely to experience a SUD (compared to heterosexual adults). Additionally,
transgender persons are close to four times as likely (as cisgender persons) to experience a SUD.
The severity of addiction in the LGBTQ+ community is evident and of growing concern. According to a comprehensive study compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2.6 million LGB adults ages 18 and older had a SUD.
Despite the obvious hurdles when it comes to SUD in the LGBTQ+ community, however, there are sources of support and expanding awareness of how to help individuals with addiction.
If you or someone you care for identify as LGBTQ+ and are struggling with substance abuse, you are not alone. At Futures Recovery Healthcare we understand the complexities and uniqueness that come with being a member of the LGBTQ+ community and the hardships associated with addiction. To help those with SUD and AUD, we base our recovery program on the principle of “meeting people where they are.” This means tailoring SUD treatment to what works best for each individual in a safe, non judgemental, and compassionate space.
Growing Evidence of How Substance Abuse Impacts the LGBTQ+ Community
In the grand scheme, LGBTQ+ data collection is actually fairly new. But, of the larger-scale surveys, much has been revealed about the rates of SUD among sexual minorities. It is abundantly clear that compared to heterosexuals, LGBTQ+ populations have higher rates of substance misuse and SUDs.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), for example, reported the following findings of SUD among LGBTQ+ populations:
- Upwards of one-third of sexual minority adults—37.6%—aged 18 and older reported marijuana use within the past year (compared to 16.2% of overall adult populations) in 2018.
- 9% of sexual minority adults aged 18 and older reported opioid use within the last year (compared to 3.8% of the overall adult population) in 2017.
SAMHSA’s 2019 findings on substance misuse and substance abuse revealed that:
- Alcohol use disorder among LGB adults (aged 26 and older) remained stable from 2016 to 2019 around 11%.
- The most concerning illicit drug use among LGB adults: opioids, marijuana, and methamphetamines.
In addition to illicit drug use being of concern in the adult LGB demographic, additional studies show how it impacts LGBTQ+ youth. For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that “Illicit drug use is significantly higher in high school-aged youth who identify as LGB or are unsure of their identity, compared to their heterosexual peers.”
Signs of Addiction
You may be wondering how to identify whether you or someone you care for in the LGBTQ+ community has a problem with alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance abuse disorder (SUD). Some of the signs and symptoms of addiction can include:
- Consuming alcohol and/or substances for longer than intended and/or in greater amounts.
- Increasing time and energy focused on obtaining or using a substance.
- Isolating from friends and family, or having trouble with important relationships.
- Engaging in risky behaviors (driving under the influence, stealing, sexual promiscuity, etc.)
- Experiencing unpleasant and even debilitating hangovers.
- Having cravings for drugs and/or alcohol.
- Spending copious amounts of money on drugs or alcohol (that should be used for rent, mortgage, utilities, and other responsibilities).
- Continuing to use substances despite negative consequences at home, work, school, etc.
- Avoiding or discontinuing activities and experiences that were once enjoyable.
- Having withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance.
- Demonstrating changes in eating, sleeping (not eating or sleeping, or sleeping round the clock).
- Needing to drink more or use more of the drug to get the same effect.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of signs and symptoms of substance abuse. And, if you or a loved one has a mental health disorder—in addition to substance use disorder—the symptoms above may be exacerbated, and/or combined with symptoms of mental illness. We discuss SUD and mental illness in further detail next.
Mental Illness, SUD, and Risk Factors for LGBTQ+ Individuals
As we initially mentioned, there are unique circumstances specific to the LGBTQ+ community, closely linked to the higher probability of developing mental illness and substance abuse. As such, it’s quite common for an LGBTQ+ individual to have both. In 2019, 1.9 million Americans aged 18 and older had SUD and mental illness.
Depression and mental distress, for example, is higher among gay and bisexual men and women compared with their heterosexual counterparts. Similarly, transgender youth have higher levels of depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and eating disorders compared with non-transgender populations. And, members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely than heterosexual populations to have a SUD and psychiatric disorder (also referred to as having comorbid, or co-occurring disorders).
Rejection. Persons identifying as LGBTQ+ face rejection across many areas of their lives, in varying degrees of severity. Rection can come from family and friends to employers and religious and political groups. Some forms of rejection may be temporary, while others are lasting. Regardless, the consequences can be long-term and devastating.
Stigma. Discrimination and stigmas facing the LGBTQ+ community remain rampant. And, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and bullying come in many forms—from outward stereotyping to silent judgment and labeling to more extreme verbal, mental, and physical abuse (including targeted hate crimes).
Trauma. Rejection and stigma often result in trauma. In addition to the risk for developing SUD and/or mental illness, the risk of trauma leading to PTSD significantly increases among LGBTQ+ persons, compared to heterosexual and cisgender persons.
Inadequate mental health care. It’s not uncommon for LGBTQ+ individuals to experience prejudice and lack of cultural competency from health providers. The result of which, can be avoidance of medical attention. Additionally, those persons who identify as LGBTQ+ and are of a lower socioeconomic and/or certain ethnic status can face overlapping health disparities in access to care.
SUD Support and Treatment for LGBTQ+ Individuals
Although there continues much more work in terms of awareness in LGBTQ+ and addiction recovery, the medical community has—and continues—to divest time and resources into bulking up education for healthcare provides as well as making treatment understanding and access more available.
For instance, current research available to medical providers, stresses the importance of tailoring treatment and care of LGBTQ+ individuals to address factors specific to their lives: family problems, homophobia, transphobia, social isolation, and violence. And, resources to help people within the LGBTQ+ community navigate these issues (and others) are becoming more recognized and available, including:
- Local LGBTQ+ community centers.
- Community-based LGBTQ+ health centers.
- Community-based LGBTQ+ support groups, organizations, and health collectives.
- Positive spiritual-based groups and gatherings.
Additional ways to help honor those facing addiction in the LGBTQ+ community include:
- Finding ways to help boost self-esteem in LGBTQ+ persons (especially young people).
- Inviting open conversation and encouraging acceptance about LGBTQ+ matters and topics (like addiction!).
- Helping to identify counseling, therapy, and addiction support groups in your community.
- Researching available resources and support systems specific to LGBTQ+ students in local schools.
- Promoting the importance of routine health screenings (including SUD and mental health disorder evaluations).
If you or someone you care about is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and is struggling with addiction, you are not alone. Millions of LGBTQ+ people navigate SUD—with and without mental illness—and recover successfully, going on to live enjoyable, satisfying lives.
At Futures, we understand the challenges and complexities faced within the LGBTQ+ community. We have helped countless individuals achieve healthy and lasting recovery for both SUDs and mental health disorders. Our licensed recovery professionals have decades of experience in a variety of recovery-focused treatment approaches. We provide comprehensive steps and strategies to encourage lasting recovery from alcohol and drugs.
Hope is a phone call away. Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098.