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Addiction in the LGBTQ community

Addiction on the rise in the lGBTQ community

Our nation is currently facing a modern-day health epidemic. No, I’m not talking about obesity or heart disease. I’m referring to our nation’s drug epidemic. Though everyone is at risk to the disease of addiction, those in the LGBTQ community are particularly vulnerable.

Why is it that the LGBTQ community is at greater risk for developing a drug or alcohol addiction? In order to answer that question, one must recognize the social adversity and stigma those within the LGBTQ community face. Most of us experienced our fair share of bullying and teasing during our adolescent years. Now imagine those experiences amplified 10-fold. Then imagine those experiences following you through to your adult life. Pretty terrible, huh? Welcome to the world of the LGBTQ community.

People who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LQBTQ) face discrimination, social stigma and other social challenges that heterosexuals don’t. Being targets of harassment, violence and other stressors, those within the LGBTQ community often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with negative social interactions. Since many federally funded surveys have only recently asked about sexual orientation when gathering data, we are only recognizing this pattern of addiction in the LGBTQ community in recent years. According to 2017’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, people who identify as gay or lesbian are more than twice as likely to develop a severe alcohol or tobacco use disorder than heterosexuals. Furthermore, people who identify as bisexual are three times as likely to develop a SUD. The most alarming statistic shows those who are unsure how to identify his/her sexual identity are five times more likely to develop a SUD.

A perfect example of the adversity that those within the LGBTQ community face is the Pulse nightclub shooting. It’s hard to believe that the worst mass shooting in U.S. history (now second, following the Las Vegas shooting) happened over three years ago. It’s likely this incident stands out in one’s mind due to the message of hate behind the tragedy. Pulse hosted themed performances each night and had a monthly program featuring educational events geared towards the LGBT community. There has been speculation whether the shooter was gay or bisexual, regardless of his sexual orientation, it’s clear that the shooter’s motives were to inflict pain throughout the LGBTQ community. It seems that even places specifically designed to be a safe place for the LGBTQ community, are not immune to discrimination.

Perhaps Craig Sloane, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker, puts it best, “The trauma associated with the social stigma of being LGBTQ, of living in a culture that, for the most part, is homophobic and heterosexist, is traumatic. From the experiences of being bullied and being rejected by friends and family, those traumas unfortunately still are true in 2019. In many parts of the country, the safe spaces for queer people to go are bars, so social isolation certainly is one of the factors behind substance use disorders for LGBTQ people.”

Subsequently, those within the LGBTQ community have difficulty finding drug and alcohol addiction treatment facilities where they feel welcome. When entering treatment for an alcohol or drug addiction, it’s imperative that the person receiving treatment feels comfortable and safe. If you or a loved one are battling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, and identify as LGBTQ, make sure to do your homework before choosing a substance abuse treatment facility. Be sure to ask if the facility offers treatment programs geared towards the LGBTQ community. Even if the facility does not have a specific LGBTQ treatment program, the staff should be able to answer questions regarding this subject. If you find the facility is unable to provide any information about the LGBTQ community and the unique challenges its members face with respect to addiction, you may want to consider looking at other facilities who are more knowledgeable. Remember, each facility is different, and asking the right questions will help you make a better, more informed decision, prior to entering treatment.

Mastroianni, B. (2019, June 28) Why the Risk of Substance Use Disorders Is Higher for LGBTQ People. Retrieved from on 2019, November 11
NIDA. (2017, September 5). Substance Use and SUDs in LGBTQ* Populations. Retrieved from on 2019, November 11

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