How Drug Use Disproportionately Affects the LGBT+ Community

People within the LGBT+ community find themselves dealing with a level of discrimination, hate, and even violence that heterosexual people can only imagine. Some of them deal with extra disdain and discrimination from the people who should be there for them the most; their own families.

While LGBT+ youth make up just 7% of the population, they account for around 40% of the homeless population; generally as a result of being kicked out of their own homes by their parents. Additionally, the number of hate crimes committed against them has increased exponentially over recent years. Transphobic criminals killed 29 transgender people in 2017 alone.

Given the terrifying reality that the LGBT+ community lives with, it’s hardly surprising that they are also more likely to develop substance abuse problems. Many people who identify as anything other than hetero or cis use alcohol and drugs to cope with the hatred and bias they deal with on a daily basis.

LGBT hands of color

The Statistics

Substance abuse is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, as being the recurrent use of alcohol or drugs to the point it causes health problems and makes one unable to meet their personal and work-related responsibilities. Dealing with substance abuse problems costs millions each year, but the human suffering is definitely the heaviest price to pay; both for the addict themselves and the people around them that love them and want them to be healthy.

Those within the LGBT+ community are two-to-three times more at risk of committing suicide than cis and hetero people. Young members of the community are more at risk of homelessness, mental health disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases. Older LGBT+ people are at risk of isolation, loneliness, and untreated health issues. Even high quality care facilities can often lack the knowledge necessary to help this section of the community.

The problem is exacerbated by the discrimination LGBT+ people deal with, which prevents them from getting equal housing and job opportunities. It also prevents them getting equal treatment with health insurance and vital social services.


Coping with Emotional Trauma

LGBT+ people can experience a wealth of trauma from simply coming out to their friends and family. Research has shown that LGBT+ children who were rejected after coming out to their families were four times as likely to suffer from drug addiction. It’s clear that when other, more traditional, ways to get self-help fail LGBT+ people, they become frustrated and turn to drink and drugs to cope with their problems.

Being able to numb the pain, if but for a moment, is preferable to dealing with the hatred they suffer on a daily basis; even if that relief comes with at the cost of their relationships, career, and dreams.

The U.S Census Bureau reports that LGBT+ individuals aged between 18 – 64 report higher levels of binge drinking than hetero people in the same age group. The National Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking for men as drinking more than five drinks in two hours, and more than four drinks in two hours for women; an amount that would increase blood alcohol levels to over 0.08%.

On top of this, LGBT+ people are twice as likely to try illicit drugs as their hetero and cisgendered counterparts. Given that most illicit substances such as crack cocaine and crystal meth can cause instant addiction for most people, this has led to a sharp increase in the rate of drug abuse by those in the LGBT+ community.

Finally, LGBT+ people are 200x more likely to use tobacco than the general population. There is an irrefutable link between tobacco use and the risk of developing cancers such as lung cancer. When this is added to the reduced levels of insurance coverage for LGBT+ people, it’s easy to understand how – and why – so many lives are lost needlessly.

Woman affected by trauma

Getting Sober

There is something of a silver lining to be found with the dark cloud of LGBT+ substance abuse. That is that they are also more likely to get professional help to become sober and beat their addictions.

Historically, substance abuse treatment made few, if any, allowances for the unique problems LGBT+ community members faced when trying to get sober. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to the problem ignores the realities of issues such as the hate crimes and socioeconomic pressures those who don’t conform to traditional gender roles and sexual orientations face.

Another problem that the LGBT+ community faces is the lack of proper research towards discovering the additional reasons that those who don’t conform to sexual and gender norms are more likely to turn to drugs than their heterosexual contemporaries. There have been no studies at all into why bisexual women in particular often face substance abuse problems.


Finding the Right Help

Those who identify as a sexual minority may find it difficult to find the qualified help they need for their problems. While the attitudes towards the LGBT+ community have progressed as of late, there are still some mental health professionals who feel that they have simply made a lifestyle choice. They don’t consider them to be following some kind of biological imperative; effectively believing that being LGBT+ is a choice. They are less empathic towards LGBT+ people, making it harder for their LGBT+ patients to connect on a therapeutic level.

Having had negative experiences with a mental health professional that attempted to change their identity may give members of the LGBT+ community reason to pause when considering getting help for their substance problems. As their fears are based on their real life experience, it can be difficult for them to overcome their conditioning to avoid certain people and situations.

Getting the right level of therapeutic care can help to lessen the stress of having to disclose one’s identity, but it only works that way if the therapist is genuinely empathic and offers supportive care.

Some research has pointed to the fact that treatment programs which have been specifically designed for those within the LGBT+ community are more effective at helping to overcome substance abuse problems than traditional approaches. On top of this, support groups that specifically target sexual minorities help that portion of the population form a power, positive support system that helps them in the recovery process.


How You Can Help

While not everyone can claim to be a mental health professional, everyone can make a difference in how they support LGBT+ individuals to get – and stay – sober.

It takes a lot of time, work, and love to overcome addition. The extra social pressure that those within the LGBT+ community deal with means they face tougher roadblocks on the road to recovery. Recovering is still entirely possible for them though! With the help of a great support network and intervention from trained medical professionals, those within sexual minority groups are able to deal with their addictions and live a life free from alcohol and drugs.


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