October is LGBTQ History Month. This is a month-long observance of the history of the LGBTQ+ community as well as the related civil rights movements. This important month of observance was started in 1994 by Missouri high school teacher, Rodney Wilson. Wilson was the first high school teacher to ‘come out’ as gay in the public school system in Missouri. He believed that the month should be dedicated to teaching about lesbian and gay history.
That initial movement has now grown into a nationwide and worldwide campaign to not only educate people about lesbian and gay history but to also spotlight lesbian and gay role models, build community support for the LGBTQ+ community, and learn about how gay and lesbian individuals have contributed to civil rights movements and other pieces of history. October was chosen as the observance month because students are in school and October 11 is Coming Out Day.
George Chauncey, Samuel Knight Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department, Yale University, stated the following in regards to LGBTQ+ History Month and its importance,
“LGBT History Month sends an important message to our nation’s teachers, school boards, community leaders, and youth about the vital importance of recognizing and exploring the role of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in American history.”
On each day of the 31-day observance the accomplishments of an iconic lesbian, gay, or transgender person are recognized and celebrated. Icons include individuals prominent in America’s history such as Susan B. Anthony, Janis Joplin, Liberace, Little Richard, Darren Walker, and more.
And while LGBTQ+ history is rich with icons and civil rights accomplishments, there are other pieces of LGBTQ+ history that are bleaker. One area has to do with the history of substance abuse in the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ Community and Substance Abuse
Historically, this group of individuals has suffered far more abuse than many others. Some of the abuse includes bullying in school and social environments as well as in their home environments. In fact, this group is more at risk for harassment and violence than their heterosexual counterparts.
Abuse, including trauma, increases a person’s risk for developing a substance or alcohol use disorder. For this vulnerable community, the facts speak for themselves. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the following was revealed in regards to substance abuse and the LGBTQ+ community:
- LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely to have a severe alcohol use disorder as heterosexuals
- Individuals who identify as bisexual are three times as likely to have a substance use disorder as heterosexuals
- Individuals unsure of their sexual identity are five times more likely to have a substance use disorder than their heterosexual counterparts.
In addition to higher rates of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and substance use disorder (SUD), this community also experiences a greater risk for other mental health disorders as well as suicide. Often, men and women who don’t identify as heterosexual face harassment and violence both at home and in their communities. This alone increases the risk for developing mental health disorders such as AUD, SUD, depression, anxiety, and more.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for our nation’s youth. For youth who are in the LGBTQ+ community, the CDC reports that they are four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to consider suicide, make a plan to commit suicide, and actually attempt suicide. What’s more information from The Trevor Project reports that about every 45 seconds a LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13-24 attempts suicide.
Supporting LGBTQ+ Community
While stigmas surrounding sexual orientation begin to fade, the reality is that there is a long way to go. In some communities, support for individuals, particularly LGBTQ+ youth, is practically nonexistent. In fact, research indicates that about 40% of LGBTQ+ teens have no one they can turn to for support at home. When schools, communities, and peers don’t provide support, these teens have nowhere to turn. This can result in suicide and suicide attempts as well as the development of AUD and SUD.
Individuals both in and out of the LGBTQ+ community can turn to alcohol or drugs to help ease the anxiety, depression, and emotional pain they are experiencing. In fact, self-medicating is quite a common start amongst those with an AUD or SUD. This is how many individuals first begin their alcohol or drug use—in an attempt to ease their pain or calm their nerves.
When faced with relentless judgment, abuse, and even violence, it’s no wonder people seek a way out. However, what first seems to help can soon lead to dependence and full-blown addiction to alcohol or drugs. It’s vital for communities as a whole to come together to support all members including those who are LGBTQ+. This is particularly true for youth too.
When LGBTQ+ youth have support from their homes and communities they are less likely to develop substance abuse issues. It’s vital that this support is provided. When substance use, including alcohol use, starts in the teen years, it is more likely that the individual will go on to develop an AUD or SUD. Providing support and intervention for LGBTQ+ youth early on is critical.
According to the Partnership for Drug-free Youth, there are certain factors that contribute to LGBTQ+ youth developing an AUD or SUD. When parents, schools, teachers, and communities become aware of these factors they can take steps to break stigmas and find ways to support these susceptible youth. Here are some of the factors increasing LGBTQ+ youth’s risk for substance abuse:
LGBTQ+ youth have twice the rates of being excluded, harassed verbally, and physically assaulted as their heterosexual peers. In addition, these youth who experience bullying at school have a higher risk than their LGBTQ+ peers who aren’t bullied.
- Rejection by Family
Sadly, many families’ reactions to their teens being LGBTQ+ contributes to an increased risk of developing substance abuse. When families are supportive and educated about how to support their children, LGBTQ+ youth are less likely to start using and abusing alcohol and drugs. In some families, the rejection and abuse are so bad that teens run away. Research shows that about 40% of homeless teens are LGBTQ+.
- Minority Stress
This is when an individual experiences hardships as a result of a socially stigmatized identity like being LGBTQ+. When teens experience this type of stress, support from families and friends is even more vital.
In addition to these factors, peer influence, gender stereotypes, and childhood abuse impact the risk for substance abuse in the LGBTQ+ youth. So what helps LGBTQ+ individuals particularly teens avert substance abuse? There are some support factors found to be helpful. Some of these are:
- Family Support
Research shows that when LGBTQ+ individuals have family support for their sexual identification they are better able to successfully navigate harassment and bullying at school, work, and other social settings.
- Supportive Adults
When youth have supportive teachers and good relationships with other adults in school settings they are less likely to use alcohol and other substances. In addition, having supportive, understanding role models at schools and in workplaces can help to break stigmas and change the environment of harassment and bullying into one of acceptance and support for all.
- Safe School and Work Environments
Schools (and workplaces) that don’t tolerate bullying or harassment of LGBTQ+ individuals (or anyone for that matter) help to reduce the risk of the development of an AUD or SUD.
The climate surrounding LGBTQ+ individuals is changing, slowly but surely. However, there is a way to go. It’s imperative that all members of the community better understand ways to support and accept LGBTQ+ individuals. This is particularly true for our most vulnerable group, teens and youth.
If you or a loved one are using alcohol or drugs to help ease your pain, you should be aware that this could potentially develop into an addiction. Futures Recovery Healthcare offers understanding, compassionate, and expert care for alcohol and substance use issues as well as mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Contact us online today or call us at 866-804-2098. We want to help you recover from substance abuse.