Those in the LGBTQ+ community face unique challenges that those who identify as heterosexual do not. They are more likely to face harassment, discrimination, stigmas, and violence due to sexual orientation or gender identity. These experiences and stressors increase the likelihood of behavioral and mental health disorders developing.
According to studies and surveys conducted:
- 60 percent of LGBTQ+ adolescents report feeling sad and hopeless to the point that they stop participating in activities they once enjoyed
- LGBTQ+ adolescents are twice as likely to feel suicidal as compared to heterosexual adolescents, and are four times more likely to attempt suicide
- 28 percent of LGBTQ+ adolescents (with 40 percent of transgender youth) report feeling depressed most or all of the time
- Transgender youth are four times more likely to experience depression compared to non-transgender youth
Mental health disorders can be incredibly disruptive to everyday life. For many people, substance use becomes a way of coping with symptoms. Situations in which a person does not have a strong support system, feels isolated, or unable to reach out to others can increase the likelihood of substances being used. Without healthy outlets or support in place, drugs and alcohol may be used as a means of escape or a way to silence negative thoughts or feelings.
While substance abuse as a means of coping with mental distress is not unique to the LGBTQ+ community, their experiences can put them at an increased risk:
- Those who identify as gay or lesbian are twice as likely as those who identify as heterosexual to develop an alcohol or tobacco use disorder
- Those who identify as bisexual are three times as likely to develop a substance use disorder
- Those who are unsure of their sexual identity are five times more likely than those who identify as heterosexual to develop a substance use disorder
The reasons for these disparities are vast, but much of this can be attributed to LGBTQ+ experiences. Despite the changing climate and efforts to increase support for the LGBTQ+ community, many people still face discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity. Many people fear being disowned and rejected by family members and friends and the fear of “coming out” to their loved ones can be too much to handle. Substance abuse is often used as a means of escape from difficult emotions.
Treating Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ+ Community
The LGBTQ+ community still faces a number of challenges that can put them at an increased risk to turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Some of these issues include:
- Discrimination and stigma: Although changes are happening to support the LGBTQ+ community, many people still face varying levels of discrimination. This can come from anyone including complete strangers, friends, and family members. There are many states that still do not protect people against workplace discrimination and the threat of hate crimes is still prevalent across the country.
- Lack of support: The discrimination LGBTQ+ people face can leave them without a solid support system. Fear of mistreatment can cause many people to keep their identity a secret, leaving them feeling isolated and anxious.
- Internalized homophobia: Because of their experiences, some people struggle with an inability to feel comfortable in their own skin. Homophobia can become internalized and cause people to mistreat themselves. Substance abuse may occur as a means of escaping negative thoughts and feelings.
- Co-occurring disorders: Although mental health disorders do not discriminate, LGBTQ+ people can be at a higher risk for developing co-occurring disorders due to their experiences. Rates of mental distress, depression, and anxiety are higher in the LGBTQ+ community and substance abuse can be a means of coping with it.
The LGBTQ+ community requires specialized treatment options in addition to addiction treatment due to their unique experiences. Treatment that focuses on helping clients develop healthy coping mechanisms, dealing with social isolation, homophobia, and violence are imperative. These experiences can have a profound impact on their everyday lives and greatly influence the development of substance use disorders. Without properly addressing these aspects of their experiences, many still feel a sense of isolation and inability to cope with these stressors.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 310.403.1032 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.