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Addiction in the LGBTQ Community

Studies have recently brought to light demonstrated evidence of the increased risk of addiction some groups face due to their sexual orientation or identified gender. There are many reasons why those who identify as LGBTQ have higher rates of addiction than others. Understanding these factors will help create the most comprehensive intensive outpatient therapy and successful addiction treatment programs for these individuals.

Let’s review the statistical information available which demonstrates this link, explore some of the societal and environmental factors that may contribute to the connection between being LGBTQ and developing a substance use disorder, and discuss treatment options available that can help you or a loved one overcome these obstacles.

Research Regarding Substance Abuse Rates Within the LGBTQ Community

This connection may have always been present and is understood by many substance abuse counselors and those within the community, but it has become more clearly documented with more federally funded questionnaires, forms, and surveys that ask for more detail regarding gender identity and sexual orientation from those willing to answer such questions.

By more individuals being willing to identify themselves openly, a wealth of information becomes available that helps the LGBTQ community bring focus to their unique experience, creates discussion about issues, and helps gain access to services specifically designed to meet these challenges through inpatient and outpatient drug rehab centers.

Statistics on LGBTQ Substance Use

There have been a number of surveys and studies since 2013 that bring to light many insights into substance use disorders and other addictive behaviors within the community. Some of the highlights for discussion include:

  • Adults who identify themselves as a “sexual minority” are twice as likely to have used an illicit drug during the past year.1
  • Individuals in this category of sexual minority were more than twice as likely to use marijuana and prescription pain killers.1
  • LGBTQ-identified individuals were more likely to report engaging in binge drinking than heterosexual identified individuals, and those who entered addiction treatment centers for substance use disorders reported starting drinking at an earlier age.1
  • Adolescents who identified as LGB had higher substance abuse rates than others in their age group, with the LGB group being between 30% to 90% more likely to use substances than their heterosexual counterparts.1
  • Individuals who identified as gay or lesbian were more than twice as likely to have a “severe” tobacco or alcohol addiction, while bisexual individuals were three times as likely.2
  • Those who were unsure how to categorize their sexual orientation were five times more likely to develop a substance use disorder than heterosexual identifiers.2
  • Transgender high school students surveyed were found to be 2.5 times more likely to use methamphetamines and cocaine than their peers.2
  • Gaps in the research still exist in the area of transgender individuals because most surveys do not ask whether a person’s gender identification at birth is the same as their current gender identity.

Addiction and Co-Occurring Conditions Among the LGBTQ Community

Addiction is not the only increased risk for this group of individuals. It is also more likely that they will develop other behavioral disorders or mental health conditions. The corresponding need for intensive outpatient therapy and sober living facilities that can support these individuals is becoming more and more apparent.

Some of the connections found in research include:1

  • LGB individuals reported more frequent mental distress, anxiety, and depression than heterosexuals.
  • Transgender young people show higher rates of eating disorders, depression, and self-harm than other adolescents.
  • Higher rates of HIV among the LGBTQ community are also recognized, along with an increased need to prevent IV drug use.
  • Receiving treatment for substance abuse disorders was shown to reduce “risky” sexual behavior among participants.

small group of people studying

Challenges That May Contribute to These Statistics

So what makes those who identify as LGBTQ more likely to develop an addiction? The answers here are many-layered and, in some cases, unique to this community. At a high level, these factors are most often seen as part of the problem:

  • Social stigma and isolation from support.
  • Discrimination in society, social arenas, and daily life.
  • Discrimination within inpatient or outpatient drug rehab centers.
  • Harassment or bullying, which leads to mental health or behavioral disorders.
  • Lack of available services that are tailored to the needs of these individuals.

Individualized Experiences That Also Contribute

This is not to say that all individuals who identify as LGBTQ would have these additional factors; however, for many people, the realities of these experiences can also make addiction or substance abuse more likely:

  • Drastic changes in life circumstances, including moving to new cities without personal connections or jobs available.
  • Diagnosis with HIV or another disease transmitted through drug use or sexual encounters.
  • Working and living in close contact with others who use drugs or alcohol.
  • Taking work as an escort or sex worker, which often includes substances as part of the encounter.
  • Finding limited support networks available, leading to living in shelters or in groups that include substance use as part of their culture.
  • Fear of rejection, which may pervade school, social, work, and family life and create an almost constant state of anxiety, often self-medicated with drugs or alcohol.
  • Finding social outlets primarily in “gay” bars, clubs, and nightlife spaces to meet with others in the community, also coming into contact with illicit substances.
  • Fear or experiences of bullying in other social centers and outlets referred to as “minority stress”.
  • The connection between a higher risk of emotional pain or loss with higher rates of substance use.
  • A tendency to “normalize” daily alcohol and drug use and the associated changes in perspective that can make it more difficult to recognize a growing addiction.
  • The daily stresses of living in what is often a homophobic and heterosexist society.

Ensuring an Inclusive Treatment Experience for Everyone

Addiction treatment centers provide a broad spectrum of recovery experiences, usually based on proven therapy techniques combined with wellness and spiritual components. Still, many in the LGBTQ community struggle to find specialized groups, sober living facilities, and intensive outpatient therapy programs, which are known to provide better outcomes.1

By tailoring programs that address some of the root causes of addiction within the LGBTQ community, many recovery centers are:

  • Providing proven treatments for minority stress as a primary driver of addiction.
  • Addressing opioid use disorders, which are prevalent in the community.
  • Offering counseling and group therapy for those with medical challenges, including HIV.
  • Providing access to sober living facilities for those who are homeless.
  • Addressing any potential discrimination or unconscious bias which may exist in program methodologies and literature.
  • Creating an open dialog with patients about how the programs available could better serve and address the needs of all patients.

lgbt couple with hands in the air and holding the gay flag

Finding an Inclusive Treatment Program Near You

Every path into and out of addiction is a unique journey. Just as every individual has a unique history and life experience, we all need to find a treatment program that accepts and supports who we are as human beings. Choosing the best inpatient treatment center or intensive outpatient therapy program for you or a loved one may require some research.

Call or chat with the top centers in your area and ask if they provide inclusive or specialized treatment programs that address issues like minority stress. A treatment program that only addresses your substance use without helping you deal with the stresses, mental health challenges, and medical healthcare issues associated with your addiction may not provide the support needed to recover fully.

At RECO Intensive in Delray Beach, Florida, we truly embrace the unique nature of each individual and work with them to develop a treatment plan that will offer a comprehensive path to healing. If you or your loved one is struggling with substance use and feeling cut off from compassionate treatment options, contact us today to restore the joy and meaning in daily life that should be available and achievable for everyone.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/substance-use-suds-in-lgbtq-populations
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/why-is-substance-abuse-worse-in-lgbtq-community

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