Co-Occurring Disorders in the LGBTQ Community

Co-occurring disorders is a term used to describe cases of diagnosable substance problems that overlap with separate diagnosable mental illnesses. Researchers sometimes use the term “dual diagnosis” to describe these overlapping issues. Unfortunately, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community have significantly increased chances of experiencing co-occurring disorders. This is true, in large part, because LGBTQ members have increased risks for both excessive substance use and other mental health problems.

The LGBTQ Community and Substance Use

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) keeps yearly figures on the numbers of LGBTQ Americans who abuse drugs or alcohol. SAMHSA reports that, compared to the general population, members of this community have an increased chance of consuming both alcohol and drugs. In addition, members of the LGBTQ community have higher chances of drinking heavily and meeting the criteria used to diagnose cases of substance use disorder. (This is the umbrella term used for all cases of diagnosable, drug- or alcohol-related abuse/addiction.) Altogether, these facts point toward an urgent need for LGBTQ addiction treatment.

The LGBTQ Community and Mental Illness

Researchers have only just begun thoroughly exploring mental health issues in the LGBTQ community. However, there is enough evidence available to paint a fairly alarming picture. For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that LGBTQ men, women and teenagers have an overall rate of mental illness that’s nearly 200% higher than the rate found in the general population. In addition, SAMHSA reports the results of a number of studies showing that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals have increased risks for developing such conditions as depressive disorders and anxiety disorders.

The LGBTQ Community and Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders are challenging on a number of levels. First, as a rule, doctors have a more challenging time diagnosing overlapping substance- and mental health-related issues than they do diagnosing isolated issues. In addition, after making a diagnosis, they must devise a treatment plan that addresses the impact of each existing problem, not just one. In a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, a team of American researchers examined the impact of sexual orientation on the odds of experiencing co-occurring substance and mental health issues. These researchers found that co-occurring disorders affect the LGBTQ community more than 100% more often than they affect the general U.S. population. Among other things, this finding means that LGBTQ addiction treatment must commonly include a separate mental health component to address all existing problems in program participants.   Resources Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Co-Occurring Disorders Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Building Bridges – A Dialogue on Advancing Opportunities for Recovery from Addictions and Mental Health Problems National Alliance on Mental Illness: LGBTQ Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs: Impact of Sexual Orientation and Co-Occurring Disorders on Chemical Dependency Treatment Outcomes

Scroll to Top