Drug abuse and addiction present major challenges for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Already high within the general population, rates of substance abuse seem to be higher within the LGBT community, though these differences are dependent on particular sexual orientations, gender, and race.1
Why Are LGBT Addiction Rates So High?
Overall rates of substance abuse among the LGBT community are higher than in the heterosexual community.2, 3, 4, 5, 6 According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:13
LGBT adult past-year illicit drug use was higher than heterosexual adult past-year illicit drug use (39.1% versus 17.1%).
LGBT adults also had higher levels of past-month drinking than heterosexual adults (63.6% versus 56.2%).
LGBT females were more likely than heterosexual females to be current alcohol users, [binge drinkers[/link], and heavy drinkers. Similar drinking levels were found among LGBT and heterosexual males.
The rate of substance use disorders among LGBT adults (15.1%) was higher than for heterosexual adults (7.8%) and was higher across age and gender groups.
LGBT substance abusers are much more likely than heterosexual substance abusers to seek treatment.3, 7 In 2015, 15.3% of LGBT adults who needed substance use treatment received it at a specialty facility, compared to 10.6% of heterosexual adults who needed treatment.13
The substances being reportedly abused in the LGBT community also differ from the heterosexual-identifying community. LGBT substance users were more likely to report cocaine and methamphetamine as their primary substance of abuse, and heterosexual substance abusers were more likely to report alcohol as their main substance of abuse.8
It is important to note that the differences between LGBT and heterosexual substance abuse have been found to be dependent on outside factors. For example, bisexual men are more likely than strictly homosexual men to use marijuana and other illicit drugs,9, 10, 11 with a similar pattern emerging for LGBT women.10, 11
In addition, gay men seem to be more likely than straight men to initiate substance use at an older age, prefer smoking as the method of use, and use less of the substance prior to entering treatment- a pattern that overall indicates less severity of use- but no such differential pattern has been found for gay and straight women.1
Drug addiction is the cause of much suffering among users and loved ones of addicts alike, but why exactly is the LGBT community in particular afflicted by high rates of substance abuse? A number of factors may contribute to LGBT drug abuse, including:
- Higher rates of depression among LGBT individuals.12
- A need to escape from the presence of social stigma and homophobia.
- Efforts to either numb or enhance sexual feelings.
- Ease shame and guilt related to LGBT identity.
- Drug use among peers leads to pressure on nonusers.
Unfortunately, many of the factors contributing to the development of addiction in LGBT individuals can also prevent people from seeking treatment. Addiction, as well as mental illness in general, can carry a heavy social stigma with it, and an LGBT identity compounds that stigma even more.
Many members of the LGBT community worry that they will not be able to find LGBT recovery centers suited to meeting their needs. They may be less comfortable entering traditional addiction recovery programs , opting instead to find a program that specializes in treating LGBT clients.
Finding High-Quality LGBT Recovery Centers
Generally, treatment programs place a heavy emphasis on research-based therapy. This can include both individual sessions with psychologists and group meetings with other LGBT individuals struggling with addiction. During these sessions, patients in recovery may focus on one or more of the following issues:
- Responding to homophobia and discrimination.
- Learning how to build relationships with family, friends and significant others.
- Forming an identity as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person.
- Receiving guidance in coming out to the public.
- Dealing with depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses
Those taking part in addiction treatment may be treated with the help of medication assistance in addition to therapy sessions. This can include medications to stabilize mood or help to ease other withdrawal symptoms.
Types of LGBT Recovery Programs
Also available are LGBT rehab centers specific to sexual orientation. For example, drug recovery facilities may focus on solely treating gay men struggling with drug addiction, while lesbian drug or alcohol recovery facilities might only be open to those who identify as lesbian. Many facilities are open to a wide spectrum of gender identities, but those who feel more comfortable with a particular group may prefer programs focused on their demographic.
Every LGBT recovery facility has its own unique strengths, and no one program is the perfect fit for everyone. The key to obtaining lasting recovery is to find an LGBT rehab center that is willing to work with the patient to create a tailored treatment program capable of meeting the individual's unique needs.
. Flentje, A., Heck, N. C., & Sorensen, J. L. (2015). Substance use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients entering substance abuse treatment: Comparisons to heterosexual clients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83(2). 325-334.
. Cochran, S. D., Ackerman, D., Mays, V. M., & Ross, M. W. (2004). Prevalence of non-medical drug use and dependence among homosexually active men and women in the US population. Addiction, 99. 989-998.
. Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (2000). Relation between psychiatric syndromes and behaviorally defined sexual orientation in a sample of the US population. American Journal of Epidemiology, 151. 516-523.
.Gilman, S. E., Cochran, S. D., Mays, V. M., Hughes, M., Ostrow, D., & Kessler, R. C. (2001). Risk of psychiatric disorders among individuals reporting same-sex sexual partners in the National Comorbidity Survey. American Journal of Public Health, 91. 933-939.
. King, M., Semlyen, J., Tai, S. S., Killaspy, H., Osborn, D., Popelyuk, D., & Nazareth, I. (2008). A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self-harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. BMC Psychiatry, 8. 70.
. McCabe, S. E., Hughes, T. L., Bostwick, W. B., West, B. T., & Boyd, C. J. (2009). Sexual orientation, substance use behaviors and substance dependence in the United States. Addiction, 104. 1333-1345.
. McCabe, S. E., West, B. T., Hughes, T. L., & Boyd, C. J. (2013). Sexual orientation and substance abuse treatment utilization in the United States: Results from a national survey. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 44. 4-12.
. Cochran, B. N., & Cauce, A. M. (2006). Characteristics of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals entering substance abuse treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 30. 135-146.
. Bowers, J. R., Branson, C. M., Fletcher, J., & Reback, C. J. (2011). Differences in substance use and sexual partnering between men who have sex with men, men who have sex with men and women and transgender women. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 13. 629-642.
. Eisenberg, M., & Wechsler, H. (2003). Substance use behaviors among college students with same-sex and opposite-sex experience: Results from a national study. Addictive Behaviors, 28. 899-913.
. Ford, J. A., & Jasinski, J. L. (2006). Sexual orientation and substance use among college students. Addictive Behaviors, 31. 404-413.
. DeAngelis, T. (2002). New data on lesbian, gay and bisexual health . American Psychological Association, 33(2).
. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51).Æ