Our LGBTQ+ community and addiction

Substance abuse or Substance use disorder is a significant problem among members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) community. From alcohol abuse and binge drinking to the use of harder drugs like methamphetamines, heroin, and opioids, many people in the sexual minority struggle with addiction.

 

Drug use and substance use disorders among people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ+) occurs 2-4 times more frequently than in heterosexual communities states SAMSHA[1]. Further research reviews, such as one included in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, highlight research demonstrating that LGBTQ+ persons are at higher risk of alcohol and drug abuse than the general population[2] 

Constant abuse takes its toll on the LGBTQ+ community

People who identify as LGBTQ+ have historically experienced extensive discrimination throughout their lives, both in their personal relationships and in the public sphere. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health shows the toll of this constant bias: LGBTQ+ persons who have experienced multiple forms of discrimination are four times more likely to develop some type of substance abuse disorder.

The discrimination still facing members of the LGBTQ+ community creates a level of systemic and personal marginalization that leads to increased stress, and that stress in turn, leads many in our community to seek solace in substances.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults experience discrimination at the structural and institutional level, such as in access to housing, employment, medical care, and basic civil rights, as well as at the individual level in the form of harassment and violence. Discriminatory experiences have been shown to operate as stressors in the lives of people and, in turn, they are significantly associated with psychiatric disorders, psychological distress, and depressive symptoms.[4]

Further complicating matters is the isolation many LGBTQ+ individuals feel in their communities.

When we come out or transition, the process of navigating our new reality may pit us against community or family structures that are non-supportive. Consider a young gay man living in rural America who is attempting to come to terms with his identity, whose only support system is the evangelical church community his parents have been a part of since he was young.

 

Once out, he is likely to experience increased prejudice and marginalization because of his sexual orientation. This then will lead to increased mental health issues, which can lead to substance abuse[5].

Many in the LGBTQ+ community remain closeted for decades because of the non-supportive environment and the results of not being able to be oneself can be devastating. The list below includes what happens to individuals who have had to hide their sexual orientation.

  • Major depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • High levels of stress
  • Suicide attempts or self-harming tendencies
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder 
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-disgust, self-hatred[6].

Scientists from the Louis H. Lafontaine hospital believe: 

Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate, but a matter of public health”[7].

 

Ref: 

[1] : https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015.htm 

[2] : Green, K. E., & Feinstein, B. A. (2012). Substance use in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: An update on empirical research and implications for treatment. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 26(2), 265–278. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025424
[3] : McCabe, S. E., Bostwick, W. B., Hughes, T. L., West, B. T., & Boyd, C. J. (2010). The relationship between discrimination and substance use disorders among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American journal of public health, 100(10), 1946–1952. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.163147
[4] : McCabe, S. E., Bostwick, W. B., Hughes, T. L., West, B. T., & Boyd, C. J. (2010). The relationship between discrimination and substance use disorders among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American journal of public health, 100(10), 1946–1952. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.163147

[5] : Sérráno, B. C., & Wiswell, A. S. (2018). Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction in the LGBT community: Factors impacting rates of use and abuse. In C. Stewart (Ed.), Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans at risk: Problems and solutions: Adults, Generation X, and Generation Y (pp. 91–112). Praeger/ABC-CLIO. 

[6] : https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/lgbtq/ AND https://www.outsmartmagazine.com/2016/03/staying-in-the-closet-5-ways-you-damage-your-mental-physical-health/  

[7] : https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/475258