Figures show that members of America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community have significantly higher chances of developing diagnosable substance problems than the population as a whole. These problems include both non-addicted substance abuse and addiction (officially grouped together under a single heading called “substance use disorder”). There are two main reasons why LGBTQ Americans have a higher rate of addiction. First, members of this group face a wide array of personal and social pressures that increase the likelihood that they will start using drugs and/or alcohol. In turn, higher rates of substance use in any population almost inevitably lead to higher addiction rates. Together, these factors have a major impact on the need for LGBTQ addiction treatment.
Personal and Social Pressures in the LGBTQ Community
Members of the LGBTQ community face a range of pressures not commonly found in the general population. As a rule, these pressures come from conflicts with existing norms and traditions regarding sexual orientation and gender roles. Specific problems that community members commonly deal with include:
- The question of whether or not to publicly reveal their sexual/gender orientation
- Fear of being ostracized by friends or family as a result of their sexual/gender orientation
- Fear of experiencing discrimination as a result of their sexual/gender orientation, and
- Fear of harassment or outright acts of violence based on their sexual/gender orientation
Unfortunately, significant numbers of people facing these issues turn to substance use as a coping mechanism.
Substance Use in the LGBTQ Community
In 2015, a federal agency called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration began tracking substance use in the LGBTQ community as part of a longstanding annual project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The results of this survey show that, compared to the general population, LGBTQ Americans:
- Have increased chances of using illicit/illegal drugs
- Have increased chances of being alcohol consumers, and
- Have increased chances of smoking cigarettes
Separate research shows that members of the community also have higher chances of consuming drugs and/or alcohol in excessive amounts.
Addiction in the LGBTQ Community
In the U.S., doctors no longer officially view non-addicted substance abuse and substance addiction as separate problems. Instead, they use a diagnosis called “substance use disorder,” which applies to separate symptoms of serious abuse, separate symptoms of addiction and overlapping abuse and addiction symptoms. You can have a substance use disorder based on the intake of any substance capable of producing addiction. The major factor in the development of a substance use disorder is repeated, excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol. Since LGBTQ Americans use substances more often than the general population, and also in heavier amounts, they unavoidably have higher risks for developing diagnosable problems. Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that the community has higher rates for specific disorders that include:
- Alcohol use disorder
- Opioid use disorder, and
- Cannabis use disorder
Naturally, the presence of so many affected individuals makes LGBTQ addiction treatment an urgent issue for the community and society as a whole.
The Impact of Co-Occurring Disorders
In addition to separately diagnosable substance problems, LGBTQ Americans have high risks for co-occurring disorders. Doctors, mental health experts and public health officials use this term to describe cases of substance use disorder that appear in combination with mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders and mood disorders. In combination, substance problems and mental illness are much more difficult to diagnose and treat than when present on their own. Practically speaking, this means that LGBTQ addiction treatment routinely requires additional services to address the potentially major impact of other existing mental health issues. Resources Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Sexual Orientation and Estimates of Adult Substance Use and Mental Health – Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015.htm Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Building Bridges – A Dialogue on Advancing Opportunities for Recovery from Addictions and Mental Health Problems https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA13-4774/SMA13-4774.pdf National Alliance on Mental Illness: LGBTQ https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs: Impact of Sexual Orientation and Co-Occurring Disorders on Chemical Dependency Treatment Outcomes https://www.jsad.com/doi/abs/10.15288/jsad.2012.73.401