Substance Use Disorders in the LGBTQ+ Community

by | Jul 17, 2022 | Addiction

Substance Use Disorders in the LGBTQ+ Community

Although LGBTQ+ individuals are continually making gains in obtaining rights that have long been denied to them, people who identify as LGBTQ+ still face stigma and challenges not faced by people who identify as cisgender and heterosexual. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ individuals also still face an increased risk of violence, rejection by family, and harassment. These stressors can put people in this community at risk for behavioral health and substance use disorders (SUD). However, there is help and effective treatment available.

Are the Numbers for Substance Use and Misuse Higher for Sexual Minority Adults?

We know that SUD can affect anyone at any time. However, data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) suggests that substance use patterns are higher in sexual minority adults (those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual) than those reported among adults overall.

  • More than 37.6% of sexual minority adults, compared to 16.2% of the overall adult population, reported past year marijuana use.
  • Past year opioid use, including misuse of prescription medications, was reported by 9% of sexual minority adults compared to 3.8% of overall adults.
  • More sexual minority young adults reported alcohol use than the overall adult population at 12.4% compared to 10.1%.

While the NSDUH reported a rise in prescription opioid misuse among LGBTQ+ adults 26 years old and above, there was some good news. In 2018, there was a significant decline in prescription opioid misuse by LGBTQ+ adults aged 18-25.

What about the use and misuse rates among transgender populations? Unfortunately, there is limited research on SUD rates in the transgender population.

SUD Among Members of the LGBTQ+ Community Who Are Also Members of an Ethnic/Racial or Gender Minority

People who are a part of multiple minority groups can face discrimination and stress based on membership in each of those groups. Minority stress can occur due to:

  • Systemic factors such as discriminatory laws and policies
  • Interpersonal factors that include violence, bullying, and victimization

Minority stress and SUD have been linked. According to research, disparities were most pronounced among racial/ethnic minority LGB women relative to white LGB women, which may reflect their unique experiences of discrimination at the intersection of multiple minority identities. Conversely, racial/ethnic minority gay and bisexual men were not at elevated risk relative to their white counterparts.

Supporting LGBTQ+ Individuals With SUD

What if you have a friend or family member who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and is trying to manage a SUD? There are several ways to start being a supportive ally, including:

  • If you are planning an event, make it a drug and alcohol-free event and ensure it is a safe space for your LGBTQ+ friends and family members.
  • Help your friend or family member access appropriate SUD treatment.
  • Know the difference between supporting and enabling when trying to help someone with SUD. Being supportive includes doing things that will assist your loved ones in gaining control over their behaviors. Enabling shields people from the negative consequences of their behavior and is not helpful.
  • Listen! Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is just listen without judgment.
  • Drive them to 12-step meetings and treatment appointments if transportation is an issue.
  • Attend treatment appointments with them. Even though you cannot go into the treatment session, sometimes it helps to have a supportive person for the ride to the meeting and the time spent in the waiting room.
  •  Go to LGBTQ+ friendly events and businesses with your friend or family member. Encourage them to avoid drugs/alcohol and stay sober with them.
  • Shut down hate speech. When you hear others engaging in hateful speech directed at the LGBTQ+ community, refuse to engage. If it is safe to do so, try to educate and call out anti-LGBTQ+ speech.
  • Use preferred pronouns.
  • Never “out” anyone without their permission.
  • Engage in fun, healthy, substance-free activities with them.
  • Celebrate sobriety with them! Whether it is one day or ten years drug and alcohol-free, celebrate successes with your friend or family member. Did they successfully use a new coping skill or find a sponsor? Honor and celebrate each victory.

Some of these above suggestions may seem general rather than directed toward SUD specifically, and they are. However, SUD does not happen in a vacuum. By being supportive in more general ways and not just related to the SUD,  you are still helping reduce your loved one’s stressors associated with being a sexual minority. These actions can, in turn, have a positive effect and help your loved one get treatment and maintain abstinence. Do not underestimate the power of acceptance, nonjudgment, and support.

Effective Treatment for SUD in Members of the LGBTQ+ Community

Members of the LGBTQ+ community tend to enter treatment with more severe SUD. However, some modalities that are effective with gay and bisexual men are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI)
  • Social Support Therapy
  • Contingency Management

Treatment programs that offer specialized groups for gay and bisexual men had better outcomes than those that did not. Programs that provide focused queer theory and feminist theory were often effective for treating lesbians and bisexual women with SUD.

If you or a loved one are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and want to stop using substances, seek help now. There is hope for a healthier, happier life free from substances.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community face many challenges and stressors that heterosexual individuals do not. Receiving treatment for SUD and mental health disorders should not, and will not, be one of those stressors at Sober Life. All are welcome here, and our strengths-based, resiliency-focused programs can significantly benefit LGBTQ+ individuals. Our staff understands that every person is unique, and they work with you to develop individualized treatment plans for each patient. This can include addressing challenges that are specific to you as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Our partial hospitalization program (PHP) allows intensive treatment while still allowing care outside a 24-hour unit. When you are ready for our intensive outpatient program (IOP), you have the option of receiving care at our vibrant San Diego, CA location or from home through our virtual IOP. Call Sober Life today at (619) 542-9542 to learn more.

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