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Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ+ Community

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults, it was reported 18.7 million people in the LGBTQ+ community have substance abuse disorders in the United States. The same study also reported that:

  • Individuals who identify as bisexual are three times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
  • Questioning individuals and those who are struggling with their sexual identities are five times more likely to develop substance abuse problems.
  • Individuals who identify as lesbian or gay are two times more likely to face addiction problems compared to individuals who identify as heterosexual.1

What Is the LGBTQ+ Community?

The LGBTQ+ community is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning individuals, as well as others that do not feel like they fit with the traditional views of being heterosexual. As such, LGBTQ individuals typically face greater challenges when attempting to fit in with others and feel normal.

Why Is Drug and Alcohol Abuse in the LGBTQ+ community a Problem?

Identifying as lesbian, gay, and bisexual can be rather confusing and challenging for the individual trying to determine where they fit in. The same is true with transgender and questioning individuals.

They might fear coming out when they are not sure how their parents, siblings, and friends will react. For example, in very strict religious households, many LGBTQ+ individuals are shunned by their families if they come out. They are made to feel like something is wrong with them.

In other cases, the parents simply do not want to acknowledge that one of their children is bisexual, transgender, or queer. They acknowledge their child has come out, yet they choose to ignore the wishes of their child and provide the support they need.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community have lived double lives for such a long time due to a lack of equal rights. They were forced to hide who they were the majority of the time. The only time they got to be themselves was when they went to specific bars and clubs that catered to the LGBTQ+ people.

It wasn’t until the 1969 Stonewall riots that the Gay Pride Movement was ignited. Even then, it has taken decades to get equal rights. The right to legally marry only recently became possible on June 24, 2011 when the Marriage Equality Act passed.

Even with the advances in equal rights, there are still lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals who struggle with their sexuality and identity. They might have low self-esteem, depression, family rejection, or other types of mental health issues that further make them vulnerable and turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Why Are Substance Abuse Rates Higher in the LGBTQ+ Community?

Gay couple drinking beer in street

Drugs and alcohol abuse problems tend to be more noticeable in the LGBTQ+ community because they are considered sexual minorities when compared to the heterosexual community. Rates of substance use disorders are estimated to be double those of the general population.

One underlying cause has to do with where LGBTQ+ individuals can gather socially. Typically this is a bar or nightclub where alcohol is being served. Members of the community may feel peer pressure to fit in with others in their community, so they start drinking socially. Eventually, this can lead to excessive drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol abuse.

Additionally, those who are struggling with stress, depression, and identity issues, etc. may discover that using drugs helps them feel more relaxed and comfortable to fit in with others in their community. Using drugs becomes a way to feel less inhibited, yet it can lead to drug abuse and addiction from continued use.

Furthermore, certain drugs are alleged to increase sexual experiences. They might be enticed to try these drugs by others who are already using them. Since they already face discrimination outside their community, they do not want to feel excluded within their community. Giving in to peer pressure is very common for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Why Can Getting Help Be More Challenging for LGBTQ+ Individuals?

It is not uncommon for gay and bisexual men to be reluctant to seek treatment. They may not even be willing to admit they have a substance abuse problem. Lesbian, transgender, and questioning individuals can also feel this way, especially when drinking and using drugs helps them feel socially accepted by others.

Another reason seeking substance abuse treatment is more challenging is due to a lack of treatment services and treatment facilities that offer specialized treatment programs for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Many facilities offer the same programs they do for heterosexual individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse.

Besides, many bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals fear being treated with prejudices or facing homophobic treatment from others enrolled in treatment programs or from the staff providing the treatment services.

As a result, it is not unheard of that LGBTQ+ individuals will attempt to self-regulate their drug and alcohol use and attempt rehab on their own. Unfortunately, if they continue to socialize with the same individuals who use drugs and drink, they tend to relapse.

They may also feel discrimination within their own community by these individuals since they no longer want to drink or use drugs. Out of fear of discrimination from others in their community, they often give in and relapse.

Then, there are the withdrawal symptoms that are common when attempting to self-treat substance abuse problems. When some individuals attempt to quit cold turkey, the withdrawal symptoms are so severe, they give in and start using just to alleviate those symptoms.

Quitting cold turkey is also not medically safe and could lead to increased health risks, including death. Even with self-regulated weaning, the success of overcoming one’s addiction is rather limited, especially if the individual has a co-occurring condition that is not being treated.

Not to mention, negative experiences with healthcare providers have caused many people in the LGBTQ+ community to choose not to seek treatment or not to disclose their sexual identity. It is not uncommon for certain healthcare providers to change the level and quality of care they provide once they learn an individual is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.

Hiding one’s sexual identity does not always deliver the level of care and treatment one requires. While one’s symptoms can be treated, other underlying causes can go untreated, such as the internal struggle LGBTQ+ individuals face when attempting to determine their sexual identity.

Due to negative healthcare experiences, or not receiving the treatment one needs, it is no wonder that those struggling with substance abuse and mental health problems will be reluctant to seek treatment.

Where LGBTQ+ Individuals Can Turn for Specialized Substance Abuse Treatment

There have been numerous changes in perceptions and quality of care over the past decade, including those offered and drug and alcohol treatment facilities in the United States. These facilities have sought out doctors, nurses, counselors, and other healthcare professionals who are LGBTQ+ friendly.

This allows program participants to let down their guard and start to open up about their substance abuse problems, which is essential for recovering and taking the first steps to a sober lifestyle. Furthermore, participants struggling with co-occurring disorders can have these issues treated to help reduce the likelihood of a relapse later.

Part of the specialized substance abuse treatment offered at facilities that cater to LGBTQ+ people are helping them address family issues, homophobia, violence from the heterosexual community, social isolation, past and present sexual abuse, mental abuse, and physical abuse.

With these changes, it is important for awareness that LGBTQ+-friendly drug and alcohol substance abuse treatment programs at specific treatment facilities like RECO Intensive are available to them. Taking the first steps on the path to recovery requires finding the right addiction treatment provider in order for the program to have any lasting effects.

At RECO Intensive, our substance abuse treatment programs are customized and tailored to fit the specific needs of the LGBTQ+ individual. We can help address issues related to:

  • Homophobia
  • Rejection by Friends and Family
  • Coming Out
  • Discrimination
  • Gender Identity
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Being Misgenedered
  • Sexual Orientation

Our objective is to help our LGBTQ+ clients better address problems related to their specific needs by learning effective coping mechanisms and techniques and without having to abuse drugs and alcohol to deal with their pain, internal struggles, and emotional suffering.

If you are ready to take the first steps to a sober lifestyle, have questions about our LGBTQ+ treatment program, or are looking for a treatment facility that offers acceptance and the freedom to be yourself, please feel free to call RECO Intensive at 561-501-2439 today!


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2018-nsduh-lesbian-gay-bisexual-lgb-adults

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