Since the 1980s, it has been documented that there are higher rates of substance abuse and addiction in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community as compared to the general public. However, despite the fact that this phenomenon was identified so many decades ago, there has been relatively few studies done to explore the issue and better understand how to prevent and treat those in need of help. Though there is a great body of work to draw from that focuses on the nature of addiction in general and the treatments and therapies that are effective in its treatment – and all of it applies to people who suffer from substance use disorders who identify as gay or bisexual – there is little research that focuses on the specific issues facing the LGBTQ community.
We do know some details about the nature of substance use among the LGBTQ community, the commonly used substances as well as a little bit about why and how substance use starts and what drives continued long-term use for many. There are also a number of studies that are ongoing that focus on different sociological issues impacting the LGBTQ community and relevant to use of drugs and alcohol as well as treatment outcomes.
Additionally, there are a number of drug rehab programs that are sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ population, providing directed therapies and treatments to assist those who are struggling with issues related to sexual and gender identity that may have impacted use of drugs and alcohol and would continue to impact their ability to stay sober if left unaddressed.
Each client in addiction recovery care should take part in a treatment plan that has been tailored to meet individual needs. It should take into consideration all of the issues impacting long-term substance abuse and the ability to stay sober, including sexual identity and gender identity, if that plays a role.
Substance Use and Abuse: LGBTQ Stats and Facts
- A 2012 study published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that bisexual and lesbian women were at higher risk for alcohol use disorders and drug use disorders, and that comparatively, bisexual and gay men were at higher risk of illicit drug use disorders.
- Researchers found that bisexuality tended to increase the risk for substance abuse among participants.
- A number of other sociocultural factors were found to bear weight in terms of whether or not someone was at higher risk for substance use and abuse, including HIV status and how connected the person felt with the gay community.
- It was found also that some factors that have appeared to be protective factors in the general population did not hold in the LGBTQ community, such as being older or female.
- More research is necessary to determine how gay or bisexual identity impacts the ability to fully recover after treatment.
- Club drugs are very commonly used and abused by gay and bisexual men. One study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that an estimated 29 percent of gay and bisexual male participants who used club drugs reported recent use of GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate, a depressant that is often referred to on the club scene as “liquid ecstasy.”
- Polydrug use is also an issue among gay and bisexual men, according to the Addictive Behaviors Those who used GHB often used MDMA, methamphetamine, or ketamine in combination with the drug, and about 25 percent used alcohol with it.
- HIV-positive men were among those engaging in substance abuse in a sexual context at the clubs, sex parties, circuit parties, and other places where club drug use is prevalent, reported researchers.
- Despite education about the dangers of sudden death when using club drugs, a subset of the gay and bisexual male population continues to engage in club drug use, according to the study.
Why is it that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified people are more likely to struggle with substance use and abuse, to continue abusing substances far longer in life, and to struggle with achieving sobriety?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), some factors that may contribute to the higher rates and risks associated with substance abuse and addiction in the LGBTQ community include:
- Reaction to homophobia, discrimination, and violence: There is no way around it. Discrimination and violence based on covert and overt homophobia are rampant in our culture. People who identify as a LGBTQ are often not supported as they discover, explore, and express this truth about themselves, and the reaction of people around them can have a significant impact on their lives, especially if that reaction is bullying and/or violent in nature. This constant degradation plus continual obstacles in getting and maintaining employment, in many cases, can decrease self-confidence and self-esteem, and contribute to the urge to escape through drug and alcohol use.
- Co-occurring physical and mental health issues caused by homophobia: Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues as well as physical issues related to these disorders and/or to abuse suffered can also contribute to the urge to use substances. Self-medicating untreated mental health issues and chronic pain is a common across all populations, and especially for gay and bisexual clients who face homophobia, it can be an ongoing issue.
- Internalized homophobia: Constantly feeling “less than” or undermined by their family members and/or the community in general and society at large can contribute to internalized homophobia, a sense that it is impossible to ever accomplish or be “good enough” for anyone, including themselves. Too often, this can translate into a desire to escape through drug and alcohol use.
- Family of origin versus family of choice: When a person’s family of origin is not supportive of a person’s LGBTQ identity, many ultimately create their own family, or their family of choice. Depending on the nature of the individuals in both family settings, this can have a positive or negative impact on the ability to stay sober, especially if the person feels they must cut ties with their family of choice because of high rates of shared substance use disorders within that family structure. This can be exceptionally painful and a huge trigger for relapse because it means yet again having to redefine family and feel isolated.
- Cultural issues: For clients who come from cultures that are not by and large supportive of their LGBTQ identity, there is an added layer of difficulty. Isolation from their family as well as their culture can make them feel even more alone and forced to make their way in life with very little support that is intimate and familiar. Not only is this a trigger for initial drug use but it can be a trigger for relapse as well.
- Related health problems: More so than in the general public, there are high rates of gay and bisexual men who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse who are also living with HIV/AIDS. This as well as other health problems related to chronic drug and alcohol abuse can have a serious impact on a person’s ability to acclimate to sober life, feel connected with others, and find hope through treatment.
The Need for LGBTQ-Specific Treatment
Individualized treatment is key to recovery, no matter what the sexual or gender identity of the client, but for clients who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, it is essential. Access to treatment resources that address the unique needs facing LGBTQ clients in recovery from addiction will provide for:
- A better understanding of healthy coping mechanisms to handle homophobia, both internal and external
- Connection with therapists and other treatment professionals who are not only comfortable with LGBTQ people and issues but experts in providing treatment
- Connection with a support system that normalizes experience and provides support for positive choices in recovery
- A period of time that is safe emotionally and physically as well as focused on treatment and recovery
Treatment Options for the LGBTQ Community
In addition to medical detox, traditional therapies, alternative therapies, and holistic treatments that are helpful across populations to aid clients in safely stopping the use of all substances and engaging with the positive coping mechanisms that will empower them to thrive in recovery, clients who identify as LGBTQ should also have access to:
- Support groups that are exclusive to others who are LGBTQ in recovery
- Educational resources on the nature of living with addiction in the gay community, especially when large parts of the community are heavily focused on drug use
- Family therapy, especially for LGBTQ clients and their partners as they work on repairing the relationship and learning how to function healthfully in recovery
- Referrals and aftercare support long after treatment ends to ensure ongoing support as clients establish themselves in recovery
Gay and Lesbian
With society’s judgemental approach to homosexuality, it makes Alcohol and Drug Addiction treatment difficult for today’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Because of this there is an ever-growing need for a Alcohol and Drug Rehab Treatment program among the Gay and Lesbian community. With help from Solutions Recovery, successful Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Drug and Alcohol Rehab is possible and effective in helping you get back on the path of a healthy life.
Solutions Recovery provides a safe and secure environment where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community can speak about their sexual identity and how it played a role in their current addiction. Solutions Recovery creates a warm and comfortable atmosphere where people can be open about their sexuality without being judged or ridiculed.
Solutions Recovery is a GLBT-friendly Drug and Alcohol Rehab Treatment center with a caring addiction treatment staff that is non-judgmental and is focused on treating your addiction and not your sexual orientation. We have a Qualified Staff that provides treatment Holistic Based programs specifically designed for individuals to recover from alcoholism and other drug addictions such as from Marijuana, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and Ecstasy.
At Solutions Recovery we believe we will be able to help more individuals recover from the disease of addiction through care in a compassionate and nurturing environment. We treat ALL patients with dignity and respect, and we understand the unique circumstances that go along with GLBT drug treatment.