It’s estimated that 4.5% of the United States population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning. Studies have shown that rates of substance use are 2-4 times higher among LGBTQIA+ communities than the heterosexual population. There are many in the LGBTQIA+ community that struggle with substance use disorder, yet do not reach out for help due to fear of judgment and homophobia. If you or a loved one believe that you may have a substance use disorder, there are resources to help determine this, and help available. You are not alone.
What Substance Use Looks Like In LGBTQIA+ Communities
As with any community, recreational use of substances without use disorder exists. However issues related to homophobia and discrimination specific to the LGBTQIA+ community can lead to increased distress in which people feel there are too many social barriers to treatment. This can lead to self medicating with substances, which can increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder.
Drugs of Choice within the LGBTQIA+ Community
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, people who identify as gay or lesbian are more than twice as likely as those who identify as heterosexual to have an alcohol use disorder.
The most common stimulants used by the LGBTQIA+ community include meth, cocaine, and adderall. Studies show that gay men are 12.2 more likely to use these drugs than straight men.
Chem sex refers to the use of substances like crystal meth before or during sexual encounters to enhance the experience. While engaging in chem sex does not necessarily mean that someone has a substance use disorder, the routine coupling of substances with sex can also lead to increased risk of development of a dependance or addiction.
Marijuana is often used recreationally, though it can also be used to cope with stress and anxiety in the LGBTQIA+ community. Several studies have reported that marijuana is used by adults living with HIV/AIDS to alleviate stress, symptoms, and side effects. Like with any substance, if marijuana becomes the primary method of stress reduction it can increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder.
Heroin & Fentanyl
The current opioid crisis has been marked by record spikes in overdose deaths related to heroin and fentanyl. Risk is especially high right now as many non-opioid street drugs like cocaine and crystal meth are often cut with fentanyl before being sold.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 LGBTQIA+ adults smoke cigarettes compared to that o f 1 in 6 straight adults.
Addiction Risk Factors for The LGBTQIA+ Community
There are numerous studies stating that LGBTQ individuals have a significantly increased risk of experiencing traumatic experiences, may not have access to the support and treatment they deserve, and turn to substances as a coping mechanism. These traumatic experiences can include bullying, hate crimes, discrimination, family strain. Additional factors can include the following:
Many individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community remain “in the closet” out of fear of judgment and discrimination from family, friends, and close support systems. The culminating pressure of secrecy and living a double life can become frustrating, anxiety-provoking, and lonely. Individuals may use substances to cope with this loneliness and fear of being outed.
Fostering connection and community and safe spaces can be very important. Historically there have been a number of LGBTQIA+ and gay communities around the country such as West Hollywood in Los Angeles and Greenwich Village in New York City that cater exclusively to the LGBTQIA+ community. For those who have faced prejudice, these areas can provide solace and escape where people can find a welcoming environment. However as with many communities frequent partying and regular use of substances can increase risks for substance use disorder.
Discrimination & Social Stigma
Even though much work has been done to combat discrimination, it’s still common for LGBTQIA+ members to face prejudice, social stigma, homophobia and transphobia. There are those that may face discrimination and lack family support, and others who are faced with the stressors of being surrounded by homophobia and bullying by friends, acquaintances, strangers, and relatives. In addition, people in the LGBTQIA+ community are also at a higher risk of workplace harassment and hate crimes. While numerous states have passed laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, there are still prejudices in regards to housing, employment, and social services. Those in same-sex relationships can also find it difficult to find adequate health coverage for their significant others due to employer discrimination. As a result of these external factors, these individuals may turn to substances to cope with the challenges they face and become hesitant to find treatment.
Taking the above factors into consideration, in conjunction with substance use, LGBTQIA+ individuals are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health disorders. They are also more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and attempts as a result from a co-occurring mental disorder that may have led to substance use, or that continually perpetuates it. When seeking out treatment for yourself or a loved one with a co-occurring disorder, it’s important to find treatment that will treat both disorders simultaneously. If not treated, this can cause a higher risk of relapse.
LGBTQIA+ Addiction Treatment & Getting Help
For LGBTQIA+ individuals, seeking treatment can be daunting and people may be hesitant to reach out for help out of fear their individual needs may not be met. However, there are numerous treatment centers all throughout the country that focus on the LGBTQIA+ community and the complex needs that arise out of the population. In addition, many LGBTQIA+-specific facilities offer dual diagnosis programming to help treat mental health in addition to substance abuse and in recent years have created specialized programming for this population.
Reaching out for support can be the hardest thing you can do. It’s also the first step towards healing. If you or a loved one identify as LGBTQIA+ and are suffering from substance use disorder or mental health issues, you are not alone. Help is available.
Addiction Resources for The LGBTQIA+ Community
Read sober stories from people in the LGBTQIA+ community who took control of their substance use.