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LGBTQ+ Drug and Alcohol Treatment Resources

Anyone can fall victim to drug and alcohol addiction, but some groups are more at risk than others. One such group is the LGBTQ+ community, primarily due to the various mental health disorders that develop as a result of rejection, abuse, discrimination, and ostracism from society or even their own homes. Many of these individuals struggle with a variety of substances at a higher rate than the heterosexual community. The good news is that there are resources available to help.

Whether you’re a member of the queer community, or you’re the loved one of someone who is, this page can address many of your questions. Are you in search of a drug rehab center with treatment programs specifically designed for LGBTQ+ individuals? Do you want more information about substance abuse in this community? You can find answers here.

Why Is LGBT Substance Abuse So Common?

While the body of research on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) issues is still growing, numerous surveys indicate a clear link between sexual minority groups and increased substance abuse. National studies conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show that drug, alcohol and tobacco use is significantly higher in the LGBTQ+ community than in the general population.  

What’s worse is LGBT statistics show that drug and alcohol abuse starts at an early age. The University of Southern California’s School of Social Work found that substance misuse is twice as prevalent among LGBT youth as compared to their heterosexual peers. And with almost 30 percent of gay and transgender individuals considering and/or attempting suicide in their adolescent years, substance abuse only exacerbates the underlying fear, loneliness and isolation many LGBTQ+ people feel in today’s society.

At a Glance: LGBT Substance Abuse

  • 20–30 percent of LGBTQ+ people misuse substances, as compared to about 9 percent of the general population
  • 39.1 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults used illicit drugs in 2015, compared to 17.1 percent of heterosexual adults
  • 25 percent of LGBTQ+ people abuse alcohol, as compared to 5–10 percent of heterosexual individuals
  • Transgender and gay individuals use tobacco up to 200 percent more than their heterosexual peers

 

Identifying as anything other than heterosexual can mean losing relationships with family and friends, bullying in school, underlying prejudice in the workplace and in society as a whole. Internally, LGBTQ+ individuals struggle with feelings of isolation, mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, and even fear for their own safety due to permeating social stigmas. These are just a few of the major contributing factors to the high rates of LGBTQ+ substance abuse.

However, there are ways to help someone dealing with these burdens, and it begins with understanding. Knowing why LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to struggle with drug and alcohol abuse can be key in supporting a friend or loved one. Below are a few of the main reasons that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals abuse substances, and some valuable resources to help those struggling:

LGBT Discrimination and Societal Stigma

Sadly, LGBTQ+ individuals may experience some form of heterosexism (bigotry against LGBTQ+ people) and discrimination at every level of society. Many gay and transgender people live with a high level of stress from social prejudice and discriminatory laws in many areas of daily life (E.g. At work, in relationships and even through the healthcare system). This crushing pressure to conform in society is enough to lead many LGBTQ+ individuals to drugs and alcohol to cope at the end of the day. However, societal acceptance of sexual minorities is on the rise. With more understanding family, friends, coworkers and strangers, society is on track to break through stigmas and fully embrace LGBTQ+ individuals.   

Help Is Here: Know someone struggling with drug or alcohol abuse? Intake coordinators at The Recovery Village® Substance Abuse Hotline are available to talk now. It’s free to call, and there’s no pressure to commit to treatment. Call 888-654-9717 for 24-hour support.  

Lack of Familial Support

For LGBTQ+ individuals, embracing their true identity and coming out to family and friends can be extremely difficult and painful. More often than not, their news is met with judgment, hostility and even disownment by their own family. According to the Center for Disease Control, LGBTQ+ young adults who experience family rejection are three times more likely to use illicit drugs than those from supportive families. Sadly, lack of acceptance among family members has led to a rise in gay and transgender men and women’s substance abuse to ease the ostracism they feel and numb the pain of rejection.

Help Is Here: The Trevor Project is an organization dedicated to crisis intervention and preventing suicide for young LGBTQ+ adults. If you or a loved one is in crisis, you can call, text or live chat with a caring person who can help. Lifeline: 866-488-7386 | TrevorChat | TrevorText: Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200.

Mental Illness and LGBT Counseling

According to a 2015 SAMHSA report, sexual minority adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual individuals to experience mental illness in their lifetime. Self-loathing, pressure to fit in and feelings of isolation can lead to crippling mental illnesses and even suicidal thoughts. LGBTQ+ individuals are almost three times more likely than others to experience debilitating major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. When concurrent with substance use disorders, mental health issues are considered co-occurring disorders and should be addressed simultaneously through counseling and therapy. For those struggling, counseling resources exist in the form of helplines, crisis lines and addiction treatment.

  • Help Is Here: The National Mental Health Association answers questions about mental health conditions and helps connect people to the care they need. Call 800-969-6642 during business hours to talk with a compassionate mental health professional.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Health offers a free helpline for anyone struggling with mental health issues. Simply call 800-950-6264 to speak with a crisis counselor. You can also text NAMI to 741-741 to receive support via text message.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects suicidal individuals with free and confidential emotional support. Call 800-273-TALK (8255) for 24-hour support.

The reasons that LGBTQ+ individuals misuse drugs and alcohol are varied, and they stem from many different aspects of daily life. However, it’s important to remember that it’s not simply being LGBTQ+ that makes someone more likely to abuse drugs; it’s the pressures inherent in surrounding society that marginalize people who are different from the status quo. Evening out the disproportionately high rates of substance misuse in the LGBTQ+ community will take time, effort and understanding from treatment specialists, lawmakers and society at large. But most importantly, decreasing LGBT substance abuse requires a greater societal shift in perspective from apathy to empathy as America strides toward equality for all.


How Does LGBT Substance Abuse Affect the Queer Community?

The mental and lifestyle effects of drug use for LGBTQ+ individuals are comparable to those of heterosexuals. However, because of the added daily obstacles that these individuals face, these effects are often magnified, and the entire LGBTQ+ population can be affected. The following are just three of the many ways that drug use and addiction impacts the greater LGBTQ+ community:

1. Homelessness

Drug abuse and addiction have the potential to interfere with relationships and jobs, inevitably leading to a life of homelessness. This is the case for any drug user, of any sexual orientation. Even without calculating LGBTQ+ factors, homelessness is a common direct result of drug addiction. Steve Thomas, member of the National Coalition for the Homeless Faces of Homelessness Speakers Bureau, knows this all too well. He was addicted to drugs and alcohol for 40 years, which eventually left him homeless on the streets of DC.

But homelessness doesn’t just affect adults. Many youth are left homeless as well as a result of drug abuse. In the LGBTQ+ community, rejection and ostracization from family members are other reasons that leave hundreds of teens out on the streets, even if drugs aren’t being used. Sadly, being an LGBT homeless youth opens the door to other potential dangers, including mental problems, violent victimization, suicidal tendencies, unsafe sexual practices and HIV risk behaviors.

2. Mental Health Illnesses

Drug abuse is often associated with mental health disorders, either as a cause, effect or co-occurring disorder. The LGBTQ+ population is at a greater risk for such conditions. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), LGBTQ+ individuals are nearly three times more likely than heterosexuals to experience a mental condition. If these conditions exist before drug use begins, they can be worsened or lead to other disorders. Some of the common mental health illnesses associated with drug abuse include:

  • Paranoia: an exaggerated distrust of others, which may include delusions
  • Delusions: very strong and irrational beliefs in something untrue
  • Psychosis: extensive changes in personality, impaired functioning and a warped or imagined sense of objective reality
  • Depression: an intense feeling of sadness and hopelessness that negatively affects day-to-day life
  • Anxiety: unusual, distressing and overpowering feelings of fear and apprehension that are often characterized by physical signs
  • Panic attacks: sudden incidents of intense distress or tension that may occur for no apparent reason or in response to a known trigger

3. Increased Risk for Suicide

According to SAMHSA, one of the biggest risk factors for suicide is substance abuse. There are also many studies that indicate a greater risk of suicide for LGBTQ+ individuals (including those who don’t use drugs), especially for youth and transgender adults. Often, suicidal thoughts are the direct result of some of the aforementioned mental health illnesses. The following are some LGBTQ+ statistics on the link between the LGBTQ+ community and the risk for suicide:

  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth:
    • Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers, according to a CDC report.
    • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • Transgender adults:
    • Based on the results of a national study in The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 40 percent of transgender adults admit to having attempted suicide. Ninety-two percent of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
    • The prevalence of suicide attempts among respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality, is 41 percent. This exceeds the 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population who report a lifetime suicide attempt.

Which Substances Do LGBTQ+ Individuals Struggle With?

While anyone can become dependent on any addictive substance, gay and transgender friends and family most commonly struggle with tobacco, alcohol, amphetamine and heroin addiction.

Tobacco

As a whole, members of the LGBTQ+ community are significantly more likely to use tobacco products than the rest of the population. According to a 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1 in 4 individuals who are gay, bisexual or transgender smoke cigarettes, compared to approximately 1 in 6 heterosexual individuals.

While this widespread tobacco use is often attributed to the stress and anguish caused by LGBTQ+ stigmatization, there are other, more sinister factors at play. In the last 25 years, several major tobacco companies have launched aggressive ad campaigns targeting the LGBTQ+ community, often co-opting the language of freedom used by gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists. The most famous example of this emerged in 2000, when a document labeled “Project SCUM” from Camel and Pall Mall was leaked to the press. This document outlined plans for a campaign that targeted young gay men in Castro and the homeless in the Tenderloin in the city of San Francisco. Ironically, while many of these companies position themselves as allies to the queer community, they donate money to support politicians opposed to gay rights.  

High tobacco use among members of the LGBTQ+ community leaves them vulnerable to addiction and the countless negative health effects. This includes the development of a wide range of cancers, diseases and other health complications. Sadly, these consequences can sometimes be fatal, and more than 30,000 LGBTQ+ people die each year of tobacco-related diseases.

Alcohol

Between 20 and 25 percent of gay and transgender individuals abuse alcohol, compared to 5 to 10 percent of the general population. This is likely due to a combination of factors. The safety, support and sense of community that gay bars offer can make heavy drinking among gay and transgender individuals more likely. Many in the LGBTQ+ community also use alcohol to cope with the high stress levels that societal stigma can bring.

Whatever the reason, alcohol dependence can quickly become dangerous or even deadly if left unaddressed. Regular, excessive use may even lead to alcoholism, a condition in which a person is psychologically and physically dependent on alcohol. Side effects of long-term alcohol use and alcoholism include:

  • Depression
  • Liver damage
  • Cancer
  • Decreased immune system function
  • Reduced sexual performance

If you suspect that you or someone you love may be dependent on alcohol, it’s important to seek help if you observe any of the following signs:

  • Drinking that interferes with work, school or other activities
  • Frequent blackouts
  • Inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed
  • Spending a great deal of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Drinking early in the day, staying drunk for long periods of time or drinking alone
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption stops, like feeling shaky sweaty, sick and anxious

Amphetamines

Amphetamines belong to a class of drugs called stimulants that produce intense feelings of euphoria. Amphetamines can be medically manufactured or occur in dangerous street forms like meth. While these substances bring good feelings in the short term, regular use can quickly lead to dependence and addiction. Amphetamines are another type of drug widely abused by the LGBTQ+ community. Recent studies show that gay men are 12.2 times more likely to use these drugs than their heterosexual peers.

This high frequency of use likely occurs for a variety of complex reasons. Fitness is important in much of the gay community, and amphetamines can be used to suppress appetite. Other individuals may use the stimulating, energizing effects of the drug to perform well at work or participate in the late-night gay club scene. But while amphetamines might seem like harmless party or productivity drugs, they can cause psychosis, malnutrition, cardiac problems or even convulsions if used frequently. Because of this, it’s important to be honest with yourself if you are abusing amphetamines, or talk to friends or family members whom you suspect may be addicted to them.

Signs of amphetamine abuse or addiction can include:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Emotional disturbances, including depression and psychosis
  • Physical health problems
  • Withdrawal symptoms when consumption stops, including intense cravings, anxiety, depression, fatigue and hunger

Heroin

Heroin is one of the most dangerous street drugs available today. Derived from morphine, this substance produces an intense rush of euphoria when ingested, injected or snorted. Lifelong experiences with homophobia, discrimination or abuse can leave members of the LGBTQ+ community particularly likely to try this dangerous drug as a way to numb the pain of their experiences. Because of this, gay men are 9.5 times more likely to use heroin than heterosexual men.

Frequent heroin use can lead to a broad range of dangerous health effects, including:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Constipation and stomach cramping
  • Infection of cardiac tissue
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Lung complications

But the most dangerous potential health effects of heroin use are addiction and death. Taking this drug regularly causes users to build up a tolerance, meaning that they need more of the drug to produce similar effects. Once users get to this point, the possibility of a fatal overdose becomes increasingly likely.  

If you or someone you love is using heroin regularly, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Signs of heroin addiction include:

  • Withdrawing from friends or family
  • Visible needle marks or bruises
  • Emotional disturbances, like sudden bursts of anger or depression
  • Withdrawal symptoms when consumption stops, including vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and paranoia

How Loved Ones Can Help

Whether you’re a friend, family member, ally or member of the LGBTQ+ community, there are many ways to help support those affected by drug or alcohol abuse. Instead of perpetuating an environment (whether it be at home, school, work or public) that is hostile or exclusive, creating a judgement-free and inclusive space is paramount. For parents, this means having open conversations about unconditional love, no matter who you love. At work and school, it means presenting equal opportunities, amenities and rights; in public, it means providing equal services without discrimination.

Preventing substance use disorder and mental illness in the LGBTQ+ community starts at home, in the classroom and on the street. Society can help change the narrative on addiction and mental health for the sexual minority by:

  • Bolstering the self-esteem of LGBTQ+ individuals, especially youth
  • Offering counseling and open discussion in schools
  • Providing inclusive services and programs at school, work and business
  • Supporting open conversation and acceptance at home
  • Discussing alternative coping strategies for stress like exercise, art and healthy sleep patterns
  • Encouraging regular health screenings and evaluations

 

Reinforcing self-worth despite sexual orientation is a key factor in preventing substance use. But it is equally important that LGBTQ+ individuals who suffer from addiction or mental health conditions are not ostracized further. Despite the fact that addiction affects people of all races, genders, incomes and sexual orientations, there is still a negative stigma associated with it. Those who struggle with substance use are not “others” or people on the fringe of society. Instead, they are human beings, just like anyone else who needs help and encouragement to overcome their struggle. Addiction, like sexuality, does not need to be kept a secret. As society grows in acceptance of this fact, more LGBTQ+ people may seek the help they need.

Encourage LGBT Substance Abuse Treatment

For those who have been touched by addiction, it can be difficult to realize when outside resources and help should be used. For the LGBTQ+ community, it can be even harder; addiction and sexuality can both seem like isolating, enveloping burdens. But neither is something to be ashamed of. Friends and family members play a vital role in encouraging others to better themselves by accepting their sexuality and reconciling with addiction and mental illness.


How Can a Rehab Center Treat LGBTQ+ Substance Abuse Disorders?

There are now hundreds of rehabilitation facilities in the country that offer LGBTQ+ substance abuse treatment options as well as LGBTQ+ addiction treatment options. Many of these facilities are designed specifically for queer adults and include programs specific to their sexual identity. As these recovery centers help LGBTQ+ individuals with substance abuse disorders, thousands of lives are being transformed every day for the better.

Traditional Rehabilitation Centers

Although the LGBTQ+ community is affected by substance use disorders more than the general population, this group is more likely than heterosexuals to seek treatment. This is based on the results of a national survey recorded in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. In addition, 15.3 percent of LGBTQ+ adults who needed substance misuse treatment received it at a specialty facility in 2015, according to a report from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report. Only 10.6 percent of heterosexual adults received treatment.

Many traditional rehab centers include LGBTQ+ addiction treatment and LGBTQ+ substance abuse treatment programs, with detoxification as the first phase. Other care options — all of which are available at The Recovery Village® — may include:

  • Residential (inpatient) treatment: Round-the-clock care, including therapy
  • Partial hospitalization programs: Round-the-clock care, but with less monitoring than residential care
  • Intensive outpatient programs: Can take place at the patient’s home or at one of the center’s housing locations
  • Outpatient programs: Intended to help patients move from treatment to recovery, while providing access to recovery specialists
  • Aftercare services: Ongoing care that may including LGBTQ+ counseling or therapy to prevent relapse

Many of these programs are individualized to meet the specific needs of each patient, with regard to the specific substance being used. However, not all standard rehabilitation centers operate equally when it comes to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Some facilities have a significantly larger population of heterosexual patients, some of whom may not be accepting of queer patients. Some centers may also not offer any gender-specific programs.

To help combat this problem and make more traditional rehab centers LGBTQ+ friendly, SAMHSA established nine principles of care for treatment providers. These principles are intended to enable substance abuse treatment providers to better accommodate LGBTQ+ individuals, helping them to:

  1.    Be understanding and flexible
  2.    Provide a comprehensive approach
  3.    Be consistent with cultural needs
  4.    Promote self-respect
  5.    Promote healthy behaviors
  6.    Support collective decision making
  7.    Reduce barriers to treatment
  8.    Provide evidence-based treatment
  9.    Create a recovery community

LGBTQ+ Rehab Centers

Fortunately, LGBTQ+ individuals have more options beyond traditional drug rehab facilities, including those that are designed specifically for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. Just knowing that these options exist may be all it takes to remove barriers for those who would otherwise be hesitant to seek treatment.

Many of these centers offer the same substance misuse treatment programs as traditional facilities while also focusing on issues that are specific to the LGBTQ+ population. An emphasis on research-based therapy as well as individual and group meetings are common aspects of many of these programs. Just as with standard rehab centers, the primary phase in treatment at an LGBTQ+ rehab center is detoxification. This first step is critical to recovery for any patient at a rehab facility.

One of the other benefits of various LGBTQ-oriented rehab centers is that staff members are specially trained to meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. In many cases, some of the staff members are part of the queer community themselves. Some centers were even founded by gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender professionals. The same is true of the creation of the various gender-specific programs.

However, just as with standard drug rehab facilities, no two LGBTQ+ rehab facilities are exactly alike. Treatment programs may be different, in terms of the approach, length and intensity. Some are categorized by sexual orientation while others have a wider range of gender identities. The following are some of the treatment options that you can expect at various LGBTQ+ rehab centers:

  • Residential treatment
  • Intensive outpatient programs
  • Partial hospitalization programs
  • Sexual health programs

Many centers may also help patients cope with various stressors that are associated with substance misuse. These include discrimination, rejection, depression, coming out and homophobia.

Depending on the specific needs of the LGBTQ+ individual, a traditional rehab center like The Recovery Village may be best, while for other individuals, an LGBTQ-oriented rehab center might be better. Fortunately, there are resources available to help everyone in the queer community make the right decision for their unique needs.


At The Recovery Village, we welcome our LGBTQ+ friends and family with open arms. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use disorder, you’re not alone. Whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning, you are worthy of the highest level of care in overcoming substance use disorder. We offer a full continuum of care for all types of substance use and co-occurring disorders from medical professionals who have years of experience in the field. In our judgment-free environment, you’ll be surrounded by people who care about your unique situation and want to help you overcome addiction for good. Because at The Recovery Village, you can find relief from addiction and pursue healing — no matter who you love. Take the first step toward a brighter future — reach out to our intake coordinators today.

LGBTQ was last modified: October 10th, 2017 by The Recovery Village