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Do We Ever Really Outgrow High School? The LGBTQ+ Perspective on Personal History and Discrimination

Kristen sat nervously at her kitchen table while holding the heavy envelope with her high school’s blue and gold colors in her hand. She hadn’t imagined she would feel this way just from getting the invite to her 10-year high school reunion.

The memories seemed to flood back from a place she had been careful to keep in a deep dark place of her mind.

Kristen thought back to who she was in high school. She was a brilliant, pretty, petite brunette from a middle-class family in a suburban area of Orange County. She had a pretty dull life up to that point, and she had questioned very little about life in general.

But high school had introduced her to teachers that taught her to ask the big questions, and she began to develop into the woman who would become a lawyer and political activist.

It was at this point that she began to question her own sexuality.

Blonde girl at LGBTQ Pride Parade waving rainbow flag
Although many think of California as the most liberal and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community Orange County in the mid-90s, and her high school in particular, was anything but. It was most important to fit in and avoid being different in any way, shape, or form.

The way Kristen was treated by both the females and males in high school shaped who she is today, for better or for worse. Not to mention the confusion and arguments and shaming she received from her parents.

The memories Kristen was wrestling with at the moment were the ones that left her traumatized and led to deep depressive issues and an anxiety disorder.

Kristen grew too afraid to be vulnerable at an age where experimentation is an expected right of passage into adulthood, and let anyone see the real her.

She grew a great deal as a woman with firm ideas and stances, but her identity as a lesbian was hidden from all but a handful of her closest friends.

It wasn’t until Kristen was in law school that she began to be comfortable with the idea of letting people know who she truly was.

She began to open up. She befriended a group with other LGBTQ+ people who spent their weekends partying.

She developed a drug and alcohol habit. She found that she was only able to be herself if she was drunk or high. And the consequences were affecting her ability to meet her goals in life.

How Prevalent is Addiction in the LGBTQ+ community?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Substance Abuse Treatment gathered data from multiple studies that looked into the prevalence and addiction rates among the LGBTQ+ community.

Compared with the general population, members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to use substances at high rates, aren’t as inclined to avoid use, and are more likely to keep heavy drinking habits throughout their lives.

Two women sitting on a bench smiling at each other
Some studies have found that approximately 30 percent of all lesbians have an alcohol abuse problem. Studies that compared gay men and lesbians with heterosexuals have found that 20 to 25 percent of the LGBTQ+ community drink heavily. The same is true of only 3 to 10 percent of heterosexuals.

These statistics are shocking when compared to heterosexual data. For example, the gay and lesbian population is two times more likely than heterosexual people to use tobacco or alcohol. Those who are unsure of their sexual orientation are five times more likely to have a substance use disorder.

So, why is substance use more prevalent for LGBTQ+ individuals?

In a society with varying levels of acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community throughout history, there is more stress, anxiety, and traumatic experiences for those questioning their identity or sexual orientation.

Factors such as trauma and anxiety contribute to the probability of developing a substance use disorder. Among teens getting treatment for a substance use disorder, over 70 percent had experienced trauma.

Homophobia often results in traumatic experiences for the LGBTQ+ community. These traumatic experiences can include bullying and hate crimes.

Additionally, about half of those who struggle with a mental illness, such as anxiety, also have a substance use disorder. Substances are often used to cope with the side effects of mental illness or trauma.

One stressor among the LGBTQ+ community is their access to healthcare. Prejudice and discrimination impacts this community’s healthcare and access to it. The root cause of this is due to the attitudes and heteronormative preferences of professionals in healthcare.

This stress, among other stressors, increases the probability of developing a mental health issue or substance use disorder.

The culture of LGBTQ+ communities often revolves around nightlife and bars. “Gay bars” provide a safe space to express your identity or sexual orientation. As a result, many come into contact with substance use.

Two arms reaching down and holding hands

Reasons to Consider an LGBTQ+ Treatment Program

LGBTQ+ treatment programs tailor to the specific needs of the communities they serve. For example, the therapists know about the issues specific to LGBTQ+ individuals. So, they are better equipped to provide therapy for this community.

Additionally, it’s easier to relate to those who have similar experiences as your own. In group therapy settings, knowing that the others have similar backgrounds and identities can help patients feel more comfortable to share and get the most out of their treatment program.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community need to know that their experiences are normal. Being around people like them who also have substance use disorders can help put them at ease during treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is LGBTQ+ discrimination?

LGBTQ+ discrimination occurs when people are treated prejudicially for their sexual orientation or identity. An example of this would be the tendency to hire heterosexual people over people in the LGBTQ+ community due to bias. Hiring based on sexual orientation is illegal.

What are the effects of LGBTQ+ discrimination?

Discrimination is often the result of stigma and homophobia. This bias can cause mental health issues, troubles getting and/or maintaining a job, less access to healthcare, issues maintaining relationships, and struggling to openly disclose your sexual orientation.

What issues do individuals in the LGBTQ+ community face?

Some of the issues that members of the LGBTQ+ community face include violence, not being able to parent/adopt, conversion therapy, employment, housing discrimination, not being accepted, and not having equal healthcare access.

At Michael’s House, we understand the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. We foster acceptance for this community and tailor treatment to their specific experiences. LGBTQ+ individuals aren’t separated from the larger population but are given unique resources to address the community’s experiences. To learn more and get treatment, call 760-548-4032.