If you’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community and want to meet someone to date, more often than not your first stop will be the local gay bar. Gay bars have long been a staple of the community to gather for a great night out together. Many individuals are able to have an enjoyable evening and head home afterward safe and sound, but what about those who aren’t?

Research shows higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse in individuals who identify with minority sexual orientation and gender identity groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and more. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 39.1 percent of individuals in a sexual minority have used an illicit drug in the past year compared to 17.1 percent of those in the sexual majority. Clearly there are factors at play.

Other studies indicate that substance abuse is twice as prevalent in LGBTQ+ youth compared to their peers. This is an issue for any adolescent, but with roughly 30 percent of LGBTQ+ youth considering or attempting suicide at some point, substance abuse is even more dangerous. With decision-making skills impacted by the effects of drugs and alcohol, these young people may be more likely to follow through on ideations.

Why are LGBTQ+ youths and adults alike more likely to use drugs and alcohol than their straight, cisgender counterparts?

1. Bullying

Today, 80% of LGBTQ+ youth report being bullied or harassed at school. When you are young, it is important to fit in and not stick out from the crowd. Being a young gay kid is an immediate way to be singled out. It is little wonder many students stay “in the closet” while in school, despite societal shift toward acceptance.

To cope with the feelings of isolation and shame, many of these LGBTQ+ youth turn to substances. It’s easier to numb out these feelings with drugs and alcohol than finding healthy ways to handle them. Bullying is a large contributing factor to the high rates of LGBTQ+ youth substance abuse.

Thankfully, school officials and counselors are working to learn more about the struggles of LGBTQ+ youth. Schools are also creating safe environments and allies for students, such as nurse’s offices and school counselors, to provide support for these students.

2. Isolation and Loneliness

Although more individuals are coming out, only about 3.4 percent of the adult population in the United States identify as LGBTQ+. When you live in an area with an extremely small or relatively quiet gay community, it increases feelings of isolation and loneliness. If you are still closeted, these feelings are magnified to a greater extent.

In order to cope with this isolation, drugs and alcohol are often a common solution. For many, a bottle of whiskey helps pass a night alone much faster than sitting sober and somber. Heavy drug and alcohol use increase the desire to be alone, initiating a vicious cycle of solitude.

Online support groups offer a fantastic way to meet others who are LGBTQ+, and there are even some LGBTQ+ substance abuse groups as well. Although online interactions can only provide so much, they still decrease the feelings of loneliness.

3. Gay Bars and Clubs

LGBTQ+ bars are common places to meet friends or a potential partner. Alcohol and drug use are widely accepted by many in the community. However, this can easily be taken too far. Especially for those who are predisposed to substance dependence and abuse issues, the popularity of gay bars as a way to meet LGBTQ+ individuals can be extremely dangerous.

Alternatives to gay bars, such as coffee shops or local events, could help relieve this problem. Pride parades, although oftentimes heavily infused with alcohol, can be a sober way to meet other individuals.

4. Nerves

Since alcohol and drugs naturally lower your inhibitions, some LGBTQ+ individuals may feel more comfortable being themselves while under the influence. Often you’ll hear stories from lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer individuals that their first encounter or their coming out experience happened while intoxicated. Alcohol and drugs create feelings of invincibility and acceptance.

To feel like they can truly be themselves, some people who identify as LGBTQ+ find themselves drinking or drugging before going out or being around others. As societal acceptance grows, there may be less of a feeling that they need the comfort of substances to be themselves. Until then, the country will continue to see high rates of substance abuse in the LGBTQ+ community.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.