Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) persons make up an estimated 3.7 percent of the total US population, but with as much as 30 percent of the LGBT population struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, they are two to four times more at risk for substance abuse. While research shows that this difference tracks directly to traumatic experiences surrounding homophobia, rejection and trauma, LGBTQ persons are also less likely to be able to seek out traditional rehab and often require specific treatment in order to recover.
Most importantly, because the trauma and social aspects of addiction are often different for LGBTQ users, treatment must be as well. In fact, studies show that LGBT individuals actually have higher rates of recovery and better outcomes when seeking out LGBTQ+ friendly treatment centers.
How is LGBTQ Drug and Alcohol Use Different?
The first and most important consideration in treating any substance use disorder is not the disorder itself but the underlying causes behind it. People who experience trauma and pain are more likely to use drugs and alcohol. Any demographic that has encountered high levels of trauma — including veterans, the homeless, sex workers and those with mental disorders such as anxiety, bipolar, borderline personality or depression — in turn experience significantly higher addiction and substance abuse rates than the general population. This remains true for LGBTQ+ persons, who face significant trauma because of their romantic, sexual or gender orientation.
Trauma – Trauma of any kind contributes to a vulnerability to addiction. Lesbian, gay and bisexual persons are exposed to significantly more significantly more discrimination, from housing, marriage, employment and buying wedding cakes, to political and psychological oppression, bullying and even rape.
LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to make a suicide attempt than a straight youth, and an estimated 40 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide. Other studies show that youth who are rejected by families because of sexual, romantic or gender orientation are as much as 1.5 times more likely to abuse substances. Studies show that more than 70 percent of persons in rehab have experienced trauma, and that’s an extremely important facet in recovery because patients must move beyond the underlying reasons behind addiction in order to recover.
Social – Many LGBTQ+ activities developed around fringe society and breaking societal norms. When this culture was built up in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, gay people were heavily ostracized, often arrested for simply being gay, and therefore had no reason to participate in lawful activities. Drug use became a normal part of the culture. Today, many young people may use simply to fit in while participating in local culture. As a result, studies show that 20 to 30 percent of LGBTQ+ persons struggle with substance abuse.
Why LGBTQ+ Persons Struggle Finding Treatment
While many people find it a given that LGBT people will face discrimination and hardship in everyday life, few realize that this extends to medical services. Homophobia can make it extremely difficult for those who are those who are gay, lesbian or transgender to seek out or feel comfortable getting treatment. For example, 21 to 24 percent of transgender persons report being refused medical care and 70 percent report being discriminated against by medical providers.
Fear of stigma, costs, difficulty discussing personal life and participating in groups because of fear, past negative experiences and clothing or rooming requirements can all prove to be massive barriers to LGBTQ+ persons.
Many also face co-occurring disorders such as depression and anxiety caused by trauma. This requires specialized treatment capable of supporting these needs. In some cases, facilities must be prepared to treat an individual with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis.
Seeking out an LGBTQ+ specific treatment facility works to eliminate these barriers, while greatly increasing the total recovery outcome.
Addiction Treatment for LGBTQ+
Getting help means actively seeking out a rehabilitation center or treatment treatment program that can give you the specialized support and care you need. That may mean specifically seeking out an LGBTQ-only program, allowing you to get the most customized care possible. Or it may mean verifying that your recovery program is LGBTQ+ friendly and ensuring that you can access customized and personalized therapy and treatment to tackle your specific issues such as trauma, sexual abuse, rape, anxiety or depression.
If you need to take medication for physical conditions, it’s also important that your rehabilitation facility be open to this.
In most cases, you should also look for solutions including:
LGBTQ+ specific Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This is a form of CBT intended to specifically address the challenges and mental and physical health risks taken on by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Family Therapy – Families can be an incredibly difficult subject, especially when they have rejected or mistreated you in the past. Family therapy works to help you resolve issues and build communication with family members, so that you can build healthy relationships where possible.
Private programs with dual treatment options are the most likely to offer treatment, and the most likely to be able to offer the type of personalized care you need.
However, you should also:
- Research the staff and read reviews. You can call any rehabilitation center to discuss their history with LGBTQ+ patients and issues, as well as their past history, tolerance and policies.
- Ask about trans-specific accommodations and policies where applicable.
- Ask about treatment and therapy. Not all options are LGBTQ+ friendly.
- Ask about policies in group therapy. Is homophobia actively suppressed and handled when it arises?
You’ll also want to verify that your treatment center has a follow-up program. Many LGBTQ+ individuals need follow-up care after drug and alcohol detox and after leaving their treatment facility, so you need to ensure that it’s there and LGBTQ+ friendly. Your best option is to look into 12-Step meeting options or SMART. Also, check to see to see if your recovery center can recommend an LGBTQ+ friendly therapist or counselor and possibly request a recommendation to a sober home or employee assistance program to help you transition back into everyday everyday life.
It’s important that you research the program thoroughly before joining. If you’re looking into a program for a friend or family member, gather information gather information before approaching them or staging an intervention, since research can take time and you’ll have to move quickly after getting someone to agree to go to treatment.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are more vulnerable to substance abuse, creating a significantly higher ratio of addiction. However, this vulnerability is not a death sentence. You or your loved one can get help, recover and live a happy, substance-free life. Just keep in mind that substance abuse is often a symptom and not the direct problem.
Most people use to make themselves feel better, to self-medicate, to numb pain and to handle trauma. If you get help for a substance use disorder and your underlying problems are not treated, your risk for relapse is much higher. Instead, you need a program that can treat your mental health, will help you to build healthy relationships with family and partners, and will work through behavioral and mental health problems that could contribute to a relapse.
Any member of the LGBTQ+ community will require specialized care, and you can find it, either through an LGBTQ+ specific program or through a personalized recovery program. In either case, it will help you to gain the tools and mindset to beat addiction, move beyond cravings and rebuild your life.