Anyone can struggle with substance abuse and addiction. However some people are more likely to face these issues than others. For example NBC News recently reported that “nearly 40 percent of those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) claimed to have used illicit drugs in the past year, compared to 17 percent of those who identify as straight. LGB adults also reported higher rates of drinking and cigarette use and were more than twice as likely as sexual majority adults to have experienced any kind of mental illness in the past year.” Genetics and environment influence substance abuse. Mental health issues and social status affect when and if addiction develops. Age and gender play a role. So does sexual orientation. These factors and more change how a person experiences addiction. They need to be identified and addressed so that individuals can get the best, most appropriate treatment. Anyone can struggle with addiction. With the right help, anyone can find recovery.
The LGBT Community and Increased Substance Abuse Risk
The LGBT community faces increased substance abuse and addiction risk. According to research documented in Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations often enter treatment with more severe substance misuse problems, have a greater likelihood of experiencing a substance use disorder in their lifetime, and initiate alcohol consumption earlier than heterosexual clients.”2 LGBT individuals face greater challenges than a higher likelihood of use alone. They may face greater physical, mental, social, and emotional use consequences.
There are many reasons why LGBT individuals experience substance use and addiction differently than their straight counterparts. NBC News explains that some of these reasons are social and cultural in nature. “Higher levels of stress can lead to substance abuse and mental illness,” the report asserts, “and sexual minority adults have often faced rejection, whether from their families, from religious organizations or through other forms of discrimination. Sometimes they even turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.”
LGBT individuals often feel they do not fit in or are judged for being who they are. This can exacerbate mental health issues. It can lead to overwhelming emotions. Drugs and alcohol seem like an easy way to escape. These substances mask anxiety or depression symptoms. They allow individuals to experience immediate changes in how they feel. However any drug-induced relief is temporary. It ultimately leads to less freedom and an inability to escape addiction without the support and help of others. When individuals already feel rejected, they may find it even more difficult to ask for or find this help. This allows addiction to escalate.
Teens, Substance Use and Addiction Development
Members of the LGBT community have unique addiction struggles and challenges. LGBT teens have even more.
Facing Addiction explains, “LGB adolescents report higher rates of substance use compared to heterosexual youth; on average substance use among LGB youth was 190 percent higher than for heterosexual youth, 340 percent higher for bisexual youth, and 400 percent higher for lesbians and bisexual females.”
The younger a person is when he or she begins using drugs, the greater his or her likelihood of facing addiction issues then or later in life. Unfortunately the younger a person is when he or she faces addiction, the less likely the teen is to get treatment.
According to a report by NPR, “Ninety percent of drug-addicted youth ages 12 to 17 get no treatment at all.” Those who do get treatment may not get care designed specifically for teens.
LGBT teens are even less likely to get the specialized treatment they need. When addiction goes untreated or improperly treated, the disease escalates. It begins to affect more and more areas of life. Consequences become greater and harder to reverse. It is never too late to find specialized, effective addiction treatment. However the sooner, the better, especially for teens and young adults.
Specialized Addiction Care for LGBT Teens
Lifelong recovery begins with professional treatment. It begins with specialized care tailored to a person’s age, gender, sexual orientation and more. Facing Addiction explains, “Treatment programs with specialized groups for gay and bisexual clients have shown better outcomes for men compared to gay and bisexual men in non-specialized programs…Treatment providers should be knowledgeable about sexuality, sexual orientation and unique aspects of LGBT developmental and social experiences.”
Members of the LGBT community, members of any community, have unique experiences and unique recovery needs. Some treatment options will work better than others. Facing Addiction continues: “It is also important to consider the types of treatment that have been shown effective with the LGBT population. Motivational interviewing, social support therapy, contingency management, and CBT have all demonstrated effectiveness specifically for gay or bisexual men with a substance use disorder.”
Treatment and treatment providers need to understand the unique substance abuse issues LGBT individuals face. Treatment needs to be culturally sensitive and culturally competent, programs that offer the specialized care and treatment approaches needed for recovery. Michael’s House understands LGBT teens. We staff professionals who are educated and experienced in treating young adults and sexual minorities. We welcome anyone who needs addiction help, and if we cannot offer the specialized care needed, we will direct you to those who can. Addiction recovery is for everyone. Let us help.
 http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/report-lesbian-gay-bi-adults-face-higher-substance-abuse-rates-n671876. “Report: Lesbian, Gay and Bi Adults Have Higher Drug Abuse Rates.” NBC News. 24 Oct 2016. Web. 3 Mar 2017.
 https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/surgeon-generals-report.pdf. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Surgeongeneral.gov. Nov 2016. Web. 3 May 2017.
 http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/01/15/463046372/for-teenagers-adult-sized-opioid-addiction-treatment-doesnt-fit. “For Teenagers, Adult-Sized Opioid Addiction Treatment Doesn’t Fit.” NPR.org. 15 Jan 2016. Web. 3 May 2017.