Members of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community face challenges every day that can leave them struggling to find healthy coping methods. While society has become far more accepting than it used to be, there is still a lot to be done to allow LGBTQ members to live free from discrimination. In most cases, those who stand out are faced with judgment and societal pressure. This takes the struggle past simply identifying difficult pressures to handling them. For many in the LBGTQ+ community substance abuse may be used to help lessen these pressures. However, this only increases the risk for addiction.
Outside of societal pressures, there is a culture of substance abuse that can encourage LGBTQ+ individuals to use. This is especially common for younger individuals who may be seeking community as they learn about their sexuality. Safe spaces for many LGBTQ+ are clubs and bars, since these LGBTQ+-specific venues encourage a no-judgment zone. While a community is important for any person, these communities can sometimes risk exposing young LGBTQ+ members to environments where substances are ever-present.
This article will discuss some challenges LGBTQ members face, how these challenges put them at a higher risk for addiction, and other co-occurring disorders.
Challenges of the LGBTQ+ Community
There are various challenges LGBTQ+ face that could result in substance abuse or addiction. Many of them are influenced by society while others are caused by the impact addiction takes on their lives.
There are many discrimination laws in place that prevent the LGBTQ+ community from getting jobs, accessing sustainable housing, health care, relationship recognition, and access to certain services. These laws are not widespread and exist in only parts of the country, but those who do face them should not be ignored. Having uncertain prospects for one’s livelihood can result in copious amounts of stress and tension. To combat it, many do turn to substances to cope.
In some situations, members of the LGBTQ+ community may find support from loved ones, but that is not universally common. This strife between family and friends can cause an LBGTQ+ person to feel isolated, depressed, and fearful of the future. For some who suffer from these feelings, they may seek out substances as a means of numbing the pain. Continued use of substances only puts a user at risk of forming a dependency and later addiction.
Challenges Resulting from Substance Abuse
Whether it is rejection from family, loss of employment, hate crimes, threats, or abuse there are many social challenges an LGBTQ+ member faces. However, if substance abuse and addiction occur it can only add to the list of complications members may face.
While sometimes the result of social discrimination or addiction, homelessness in LBGTQ+ youth is far too common. Addiction can prevent a person from having a stable employment. Or it could cause a person to be kicked from their home by a family who rejects them and doesn’t want to help them in their recovery. For some who are left homeless, substances may help cope with the situation.
The risk of adding to addiction through abuse is also exacerbated by the homeless situation. They can be left exposed outdoors in whatever conditions they can find. If they do manage to find shelter, there is also risk. First, there is a risk of being targeted as a part of a hate crime resulting in abuse or sexual assault. However, if a person is suffering from addiction they may encounter the possibility of a homeless shelter turning them away because of their substance use.
Mental Health Issues
Homelessness can not only be influenced by addiction, but it opens the door for other problems as a result of feeling abandoned or lost. Mental health struggles are very common in the LGBTQ+ community as members are 3 times more likely to have a mental health condition. These conditions can range from paranoia, depression, delusions, psychosis, anxiety, and panic attacks. The co-occurring disorders make coping with substance abuse increasingly difficult.
In many cases, the co-occurring disorders may influence a user to abuse substances more to drown out the negative effects.
Increased Risk of Suicide
While the overall risk of suicide for LGBTQ+ members is higher than the average, the addition of addiction only worsens these chances. Feeling lost, isolated, and suffering from addiction may push a person to do the worst. In turn, using substances to the extreme to counter the suicide risk can worsen thoughts and feelings when substances are no longer in use.
Transgender Individuals and Substance Abuse
A transgender individual is a person assigned a biological gender at birth that does not match up with their gender identity. To come out transgender can be freeing for those who have felt uncomfortable in their skin for years. However, the lack of support from society and family can make coming out transgender terrifying.
Rejection from family and society for trying to find one’s identity can be damaging to the mental health of a transgender person. For some, they may seek out substances to cope with this. Transgender persons are found to be 2.5 times more likely to use cocaine or meth to manage the isolation they may face.
Because being transgender often means a drastic visual change in a person, it isn’t easy for them to simply hide who they are until they are ready. This makes them feel exposed and vulnerable while still navigating this new life laid out before them. Using can help a trans person manage this new life, but puts them at a higher risk of addiction.
Addiction and managing this new life, especially for young trans people, can take their toll. Almost 30 percent of gay and transgender youth consider suicide. For many, the alternative is using substances to push the negative from their minds. Neither situation is ideal, but without support and resources, many LGBTQ+ may not know their options for help.
Co-Occurring Disorders in the LGBTQ+ Community
As mentioned above, mental health disorders are increasingly common in the LGBTQ+. These disorders are influenced by emotional distress from trying to find the balance between living as their true self and what society wants from them. This distress can not only influence disorders but also increase the risk of developing health-related complications. Some common disorders as a result are:
- Major depression
- Generalized anxiety disorders
- High level of stress
- Suicide attempts or self-harm
- Compulsive sexual behavior
- Sexual dysfunction or sex-related anxiety
- Sexual abuse or assault
Managing life as an LGBTQ+ individual and combating a mental disorder can seem like chaos, but the relief many seek isn’t as helpful as they would like. Abusing substances and forming an addiction can only worsen these mental disorders. While many treatment centers are equipped with the tools to help combat and recover from addiction, there is a need for more specific treatment. Understanding what influences the motives of LGBTQ+ members to abuse can help guide them to recovery.
Common Substances Abused in LGBTQ Community
While some substances seem harmless at first, they can often lead the user down a dangerous road. When the need to numb or suppress intense feelings becomes the main force behind using, a user may seek out bigger and more dangerous highs when they find themselves forming a tolerance. The most common substances abused by LGBTQ+ members are:
- A starting point for many as LGBTQ+ individuals are 200% more likely to smoke than heterosexuals.
- Can be part of the culture. Many safe places for LGBTQ+ are gay bars as they can be true to themselves without judgment in such places. This, however, enables alcohol use or abuse.
- LGBTQ+ are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana.
- A stimulant class drug that is highly addictive. It can give a rush of euphoria to the user which can also be utilized in a club/bar scene.
- Incredibly dangerous as it is highly addicting, easy to build a tolerance to, and cheap to buy. The rush given by this drug would also make it common among LGBTQ+ club culture.
LGBTQ+ Community at a Higher Risk of Addiction
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) recognizes that the LGBTQ+ community is at a higher risk of forming addictions to tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. This can be attributed to substance abuse that begins at an earlier age for many LGBTQ+. It can also create a vicious cycle of coping. Substances are used to cope with loneliness, isolation, and depression, but then the use of substances on increases these feelings. Therefore, more frequent use and abuse can occur until the addiction is completely formed.
Given the societal and familial pressure along with club culture, LGBTQ+ are put at a higher risk for addiction. Unfortunately for many without support or means, they may not be aware of the resources that can help them. Awareness of LGBTQ+ substance abuse and the challenges they face can change this.
Supporting LGBTQ+ Loved Ones
Fear is overly common among LGBTQ+ individuals. Many fear losing their homes or loved ones by coming out. This fear can hold back the recovery of an addict as they may not know whether they have a good support system or not. Many times, a young LGBTQ+ member will not come out to family or friends because the reaction could be potentially negative. This is very unfortunate as there are supportive and loving family members out there. Distinguishing the difference between the two is risky to some.
To combat this fear there are many things a support system can do to create a judgment-free and inclusive space. By having open and accepting conversations as parents of young LGBTQ+ they can show support. In public spaces, such as school or work, presenting equal opportunities and services can help build trust with an LGBTQ+ individual.
Encouraging LGBTQ+ individuals to truly embrace themselves could help prevent the negative side effects of mental disorders. All this sets up an environment where a teen is less likely to form a substance problem, but also be more willing to reach out when they need help managing one.
A support system is very important to seeking addiction treatment but is not also present for everyone. For those who do not have family or friends to lean on, some resources can offer a lending hand. The Trevor Project is well known for devoting resources to provide intervention and prevent suicide in LGBTQ+ community members. They can reach out to The Trevor Project at:
- Lifeline: 866-488-7386
- TrevorText: Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200
The Trevor Project encourages boosting the self-esteem of LGBTQ+ individuals. They offer counseling in school settings, provide inclusive services, and help teach the tools to manage stress by promoting art, exercise, and healthy habits.
When to Seek Help
A support system, whether it consists of family, friends, or an organization/community, is critical to the success of recovery. This support system can help LGBTQ+ individuals accept who they are and find the balance between functioning and stress. If your loved one is suspected of using substances or being dependent on them it is important to be aware of the signs. Signs that outside help may be necessary include:
- Substance abuse that interferes with life
- Frequent blackouts
- Uncontrollable drinking
- Drinking or staying drunk for extended periods
- Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking or using
Noticing a difference in personality in your loved one can be a big indicator something is bothering them as well. Asking and encouraging them to talk about substance abuse can help them take the proper steps to recovery. However, if they are reluctant or reserved in doing so it could show it is time for an invention to seek help.
Counseling Resources for LGBTQ+ Individuals
When an LGBTQ+ individual feels lost and without direction, as to where or how to get help this can worsen the negative emotions they may be feeling. It is important to spread awareness of supportive counseling services in public places and even within your family. Some popular resources are:
- The National Mental Health Association
- Can provide educational material about mental health conditions and connect those in need by calling 800-969-6642.
- The National Alliance on Mental Health
- Offers a free hotline to anyone struggling with mental health concerns. Call 800-950-6264 to speak to a crisis counselor or text “NAMI” to 741-741 for text support.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Provide emotional support to suicidal individuals by calling 800-273-TALK (8255).
Many of these services can be a lifeline for those in need. For some who do not have a supportive home life, they can be the only source of support they find. Exposure of this information may not be common so it is important for schools, workplaces, and other public places to try to make these resources known. It could save a life.
Addiction Treatment For LGBTQ+
LGBTQ+ community members might find themselves hesitant to seek help for a variety of reasons. Some of these doubts might include location, as some places may not offer services specific to LGBTQ+ needs. Given the larger portion of heterosexual patients in treatment centers, the services may not always be equal. However, this shouldn’t discourage LGBTQ+ members from seeking treatment. Some centers, such as NuView Treatment center, offer LGBTQ+ specific plans that help members manage the life challenges they face.
These programs encourage understanding and flexible plans that work with specific needs. They seek to understand the cultural needs and elements to create a respectful, uplifting environment that promotes healthy behavior, positive decision-making, and a supportive community.
Research supports LGBTQ+ specific rehabilitation centers in not only combating addiction but also treating co-occurring mental health disorders. These centers can address factors such as homophobia, family complications, and isolation. Cutting at the source of the problems is ideal for successful treatment.
Recover Today at NuView Treatment Center
After seeking treatment, whether it is specific to LGBTQ+ needs or not, many individuals will benefit from new life skills. These skills typically teach healthy coping mechanisms, combating addiction, and preventing relapse. While seeking out help can be scary, especially for a younger person, the benefits of doing so far outweigh the negatives.
NuView Treatment Center is a rehab center that helps people free themselves from the vicious cycle of alcohol and drug addiction. Our outpatient programs offer treatment for people at the pace and intensity they need, and they are flexible enough to allow individuals to continue to live at home, go to work, and support their families. At NuView Treatment Center, we offer a wide range of levels of care to meet the needs of patients suffering from different addiction severities. Our programs include a partial hospitalization program (PHP), intensive outpatient program (IOP, outpatient program (OP), and aftercare planning. No matter where you are on the addiction spectrum, we are here to meet your needs.
At NuView Treatment Center, we believe that compassionate and holistic care is essential to addiction recovery. Our person-centered programs recognize the value of diversity and the unique needs of LGBTQ+ individuals. Our highly trained and personable staff aim to develop individualized treatment plans for every one of our clients. We understand that everyone has a unique story, and the underlying issues that drive a person’s addiction are always unique. With that in mind, we not only help people develop coping tools for dealing with triggers, but we also support them in addressing their underlying mental health disorders, family problems, and even unemployment. Making use of the latest evidence-based treatment modalities, NuView Treatment Center aims to help clients recover from their substance use disorders. In the process, our clients successfully rebuild their lives.
If you are tired of struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, contact NuView Treatment Center today for a free and confidential consultation.