Compared to the rest of the population, drug use is much more prevalent in the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community. It is estimated that up to 30 percent of the LGBTQ+ abuse drugs. This higher rate of substance abuse can be contributed to the unique challenges that the LGBTQ community regularly face.

Challenges Unique to the LGBTQ+ Community

Drug abuse is much higher in the LGBTQ+ community for a variety of reasons. LGBTQ individuals face a unique set of circumstances, and in turn, this can lead to substance abuse and mental disorders. The social barriers that LGBTQ+ individuals come across often differ from their heterosexual counterparts. Many of us face difficulties in our daily lives, but the unique challenges for the LGBTQ+ community are not one that is easy to understand without experiencing it.

It is not uncommon for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ to experience discrimination on a regular basis. Those that do not agree with the sexual orientation of the LGBTQ+ community, often do not hesitate to express their opinions. In turn, this can lead to stressful social situations. In more severe cases, LGBTQ+ individuals have reported ongoing harassment based on their sexual preference and identity.

two women snuggling

Many that have been open about their beliefs and orientation have experienced hate crime, and embarrassment while in public. Social injustice is rampant in this community, and some individuals turn to alcohol and drug abuse to cope with these situations.

Self-hate and being highly critical of oneself is another challenge that many in the LGBTQ community face. This can lead to a myriad of mental disorders including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. It is common for these mental health disorders to be paired with the perceived need to abuse drugs and alcohol. Being subjected to bullying and harassment takes a big toll on the mental health of individuals.

Another trying time for many LGBTQ+ individuals is coming out to their friends and family. The behavior of the people they love may be unexpectedly resulting in rejection or negativity. This also increases the risk of self-hatred and depression. Shame may even be expressed by the individual leading to a loss of self-worth and willingness to connect with others. LGBTQ+ individuals have even reported not being measured fairly against their peers in the workplace. This discrimination has adversely impacted their futures and the ability to have employment.

LGBTQ Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Many LGBTQ+ individuals turn to alcohol and drug to cope with the unique challenges that they face daily. Some simply believe that this form of self-medication will be helpful, but often times it exacerbates issues with self-identity and self-worth. Often drugs and alcohol will help the individuals using them to temporarily feel less pain and anxiety. Many that identify as LGBTQ+ site the constant discrimination they face as one of the main reasons they have turned to drugs and alcohol in the first place.

man drinking beer

Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ drug and alcohol abuse can either cause or increase the frequency of co-occurring disorders. The following is common to find among LGBTQ+ individuals with drug and alcohol abuse.

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder and other anxiety disorders
  • Major or Severe Depression
  • Higher rates of substance abuse and turning to other drugs to cope
  • Increased risk of suicide and self-harm
  • Compulsive sexual behaviors leading to sexually transmitted infection and disease
  • Sexual abuse of others
  • Physical or verbal assault of others; lashing out

Additionally, according to the 2016 report Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorder Administration (SAMHSA), specific drugs are utilized more in the LGBTQ+ community. As they analyzed drug usage of the LGBTQ+ community, the statistics of drug abuse are astounding.

Nearly 40% of the LGBTQ+ community has used some form of illicit drugs. Transgender people in particular rank high for the consumption of illicit drugs and alcohol.

Gay men statistically use the following substances most prevalently.
  • Cocaine and Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens
  • Sedatives
  • Marijuana
  • Tranquilizers

young man crying rainbow tears

Among transgender people, the following drugs are most commonly used.
  • Crack Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Injectables

LGBTQ+ Treatment Option Challenges

Many LGBTQ+ individuals that abuse drugs are reluctant to seek treatment. Given the rejection faced by many in society, they feel as though they will be viewed the same way by health professionals. In order to avoid the judgment of the health community, many people simply make the choice to not seek help for their drug and alcohol abuse.

Another obstacle is that many health professionals are not trained or well-versed on the unique needs of an LGBTQ+ patient. Every patient is different, and trained professionals do not always take these special needs into consideration. The underlying cause of substance abuse has to do with rejection, self-worth, trauma, and shame that is very unique to the LGBTQ+ community.

person walking through crosswalk

Health professionals should take this world view into consideration when treating LGBTQ patients, while still providing fair and consistent treatment standards. Unfortunately, there are reports of LGBTQ+ individuals feeling that their sexual orientation and identity was a barrier in receiving fair and effective treatment. In some cases, discrimination has occurred in the health professional and patient relationship.

Supporting LGBTQ+ Individuals

LGBTQ+ individuals have their own unique set of personal challenges and barriers they must face. It is important to be understanding when supporting LGBTQ+ individuals, specifically those battling substance abuse. There are many ways you can show your support to this community and help them effectively receive treatment.

  • Be empathetic in understanding the unique challenges that the LGBTQ+ individual is most likely facing daily. The increased stress they are feeling may be eased by an understanding friend who seeks to understand how they are coping with these challenges.
  • Encourage LGBTQ+ individuals to seek treatment for alcohol and drug abuse and any mental health disorders. Have them seek health professionals that have experience treating the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Attend or promote LGBTQ+ groups in the community.
  • Speak out if you feel anyone is at risk of self-harm or exhibiting suicidal behavior.
  • The health community needs to seek to understand the unique challenges and stresses that the LGBTQ+ community faces and incorporate this into the ongoing treatment. This will result in a more successful, long term recovery.

If you or a loved one needs help, call us at 949-625-4019.

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