In recent years, Western society has become more acceptable of LGBTQ rights. Pride parades take place across the United States throughout the year. Insurers can no longer turn away people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states.

However, LGBTQ individuals continue to face discrimination. They still experience public ridicule and bullying. Additionally, businesses in certain states can still refuse to accommodate to LGBTQ people. A 2018 study by the Movement Advancement Project found that 34 percent of LGBTQ individuals avoid public places, like restaurants or stores, because of potential discrimination.

Many people in the LGBTQ community deal with stress and anxiety caused by discrimination, which can cause them to turn to drugs or alcohol. Substance use among LGBTQ members is a significant problem, and most of these individuals do not seek the help they need.

Facts About LGBTQ and Addiction

America is experiencing its worst drug crisis. The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities throughout the United States, and methamphetamine use has risen over the last decade. On college campuses, drug and alcohol use is ubiquitous.

Rates of substance use are high among Americans. Digging deeper, drug and alcohol misuse is widespread among the LGBTQ community, who also deal with high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report, adults defined as a “sexual minority” were more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to have engaged in illicit drug use in the past year. The “sexual minority” category includes lesbian, gay and bisexual adults.

According to the Center for American Progress, 25 percent of gay and transgender individuals misuse alcohol compared with 5 to 10 percent of the general population. Gay and transgender people use tobacco up to 200 percent more than do heterosexual and non-transgender individuals.

A past NSDUH report indicated that nearly one-third of sexual minorities used marijuana in the past year. According to this survey, about 10 percent of LGBTQ people misused prescription drugs, like PercocetXanax or Klonopin.

In the report, the most common substances misused by LGBTQ people were:

In 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau conducted a survey that found that a higher percentage of LGBTQ adults between ages 18 and 64 reported binge drinking in the past year than did their heterosexual peers. Binge drinking involves consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion.

Many LGBTQ people who misuse drugs or alcohol also deal with mental health problems, like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the NSDUH report, 37.4 percent of LGBTQ adults ages 18 or older experienced a mental illness in the past year. Among LGBTQ people surveyed, a higher percentage of women than men dealt with a mental health disorder.

“Higher levels of stress can lead to substance abuse and mental illness, and sexual minority adults have often faced rejection, whether from their families, from religious organizations or through other forms of discrimination,” Eric Yarbrough, director of psychiatry at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City, told NBC OUT. “Sometimes they even turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.”

What Contributes to LGBTQ Substance Use?

Discrimination is just one factor that contributes to substance use among the LGBTQ community. Employment stress is another factor. According to a report by the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC), it remains legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation in 29 states.

The NAADAC report indicated that 43 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 90 percent of transgender individuals experienced discrimination at their job because of their sexual orientation. When people lose their job, they often have no income, insurance or medical coverage. This combination of circumstances can increase a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Housing stress can also contribute to drug or alcohol use among the LGBTQ community. According to the NAADAC report, 55 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals have lived in unsafe housing or been denied housing because of their sexual orientation.

Stress can cause physical and psychological health issues. When people experience stress for extended periods of time, they can develop chronic stress. Chronic stress can be particularly harmful to the body and mind, resulting in anxiety, heart disease or depression. This type of stress also increases a person’s chance of engaging in substance use.

Many LGBTQ individuals dealing with an addiction or mental health disorder do not seek treatment. As a result, their substance use and mental health problems can worsen. People with a severe substance use disorder often face health, social and legal problems.

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.