Drug addiction is a serious problem – one that affects people of all ages and from all walks of life. It does not, however, affect all groups of people in equal numbers, and, sadly, one of the groups that it affects the most is the LGBT community.
LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. While more and more studies are constantly being done to determine why addiction occurs at higher rates in these populations, some of the answers tend to be fairly obvious. Before going into those, however, it is important to note that, according to a recent report from The Center for American Progress, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of LGBT people suffer from drug addiction, while only an estimated nine percent of the general population does. Obviously, it’s a major disparity that is best addressed through treatment in the short term and increased outreach and education in the long term.
Research is still being done on addiction and how it impacts the LGBT community. With that said, however, not much is yet known about the results of the studies being conducted; the LGBT area of scientific and psychological research is just too new. Some things that researchers are now aware of, however, include the following:
- Gay men are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana than straight men.
- Gay men are 12.2 times more likely to use methamphetamines than straight men.
- Gay men are 9.5 times more likely to use heroin than straight men.
- About 25 percent of LGBT individuals abuse alcohol
Obviously, there is still much reporting to be done and much research, especially on topics as they relate to lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. The few results that have come to light in recent years, however, make one thing clear: There is a serious problem with addiction among LGBT individuals. That problem needs to be treated so that members of the LGBT community can live longer, happier, healthier lives.
Understanding the Impulse
Effective treatment begins with a complete understanding of why people use and abuse drugs. These triggers can keep people locked in a cycle of addiction, even when they want to stop abusing drugs, and treatment is designed to help people come up with new tools they can use to deal with these triggers. While LGBT people might share many triggers with their heterosexual counterparts, they also have some triggers that seem unique.For example, research suggests that some people in the LGBT community have a traumatic history. In one such study, in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers talked to close to 2,000 lesbians from 50 states, and found that 37 percent had been physically abused at least once, 32 percent had been a victim of a sexual assault and 19 percent had been involved in an incestuous relationship. These women were likely left with deep, deep scars that they couldn’t understand or prevent, and they might have turned to drugs to erase those memories.
Similarly, many members of the LGBT community face daily discrimination due to their orientation. They might find it hard to get jobs, and if they are employed, they might be taunted or shunned due to their orientation. People like this might also be harassed in their neighborhoods with vandalism or threats, and some might even worry about physical assault if they’re out after dark in their neighborhoods. This daily, grinding, low-level stress can be hard to handle, and in some cases, it might drive people to addiction.
Treatment of LGBT Individuals
That fact is that LGBT individuals are often treated poorly by other members of society, and this contributes to their addiction rates. These issues simply must be addressed in a treatment program, but it can be difficult for people in the LGBT community to get help in a mixed program. They might be concerned about discussing their impulses openly, and if they do so, they might face yet more discrimination.
For example, a study in the journal Substance Use and Misuse found that men who have sex with men often use methamphetamine in order to boost the sensations they feel during a sexual episode. This enhanced sensation is, for these men, a trigger for a return to drug use, and it must be discussed and dealt with in therapy. However, many men would balk at the idea of discussing gay sex in a room full of heterosexual people. It’s not the sort of thing that seems comfortable to do.
Those in the LGBT community might also need intensive mental health care assistance in order to overcome the deep wounds they’ve endured due to years of abuse. They might need assistance with:
- Internalized homophobia
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
All of these issues may be brought about due to drug abuse and endless discrimination. While some shared programs can provide this level of intensive mental health care, it’s not provided by all programs at all times. Sometimes, people in the LGBT community don’t succeed in standardized programs because they simply don’t get the intensive help they need.
Getting Help at Michael’s House
LGBT or not, the fact remains that people who struggle with addictions need help to stop their addictive behaviors. While all public rehabilitation facilities are required to provide care to anyone, including LGBT individuals, not all facilities are aware of the unique issues facing these individuals and of how to recognize and combat those issues. Because of this, LGBT individuals are strongly encouraged to attend treatment programs that have specifically-tailored treatment elements to meet their needs.
In a targeted LGBT program, people have access to therapists and other mental health experts who are aware of the challenges people in this group face on a daily basis. These mental health professionals might also be capable of developing a safe, supportive therapeutic environment in which people can talk openly and share completely. These experts might hold individualized sessions, but they might also be able to pull together group sessions in which all participants are members of the LGBT community. This allows people to share with one another and learn from one another, without worrying about discrimination.
At Michael’s House, we provide an LGBT therapeutic track with specialized resources and individualized support. It’s not about tolerance. It’s about understanding and acceptance as well as having the experience necessary to address issues unique to sexual and gender identity. Contact us today for more information.