Pride Month: Spotlight on Substance Abuse Treatment in the LGBTQ Community

Pride Month: Spotlight on Substance Abuse Treatment in the LGBTQ Community


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For many decades there has been research conducted with conflict and bias on the rates of substance abuse and addiction treatment within the LGBTQ community. This comes to no surprise, as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, still, unfortunately, comes with some sort of discrimination. This is even despite the major efforts on moving towards acceptance with the legalization of same-sex marriage in June 2015.

In a time when members of the LGBTQ+ community are focusing on celebrating rights, equality, and marriage. While that is important to recognize, other concerns are falling by the wayside, including this population’s physical and mental health concerns and needs.

Therefore, as June is pride month, we wanted to shed a little light on issues that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals face. By bringing the topic of substance abuse treatment back into the spotlight.

June is Pride Month: Raising Awareness

The month of June is designated as Pride Month when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer groups come together and celebrate the freedom to be who they are in their entirety. The organizers chose June for this special celebration because they wanted to pay homage to the Stonewall Uprising. This occurred in New York City in 1969, inciting the modern gay rights movement.

Pride is rooted back to the history of minority groups. Groups who have constantly been discriminated against, have struggled to overcome prejudice, and most importantly, find acceptance for what they stand for and who they are. Around the world, most Pride events are celebrated this time of year, where universal acceptance shows no bounds.

At Unity, we are large supporters of the LGBTQ+ community and do not discriminate against anyone for who they are, including sexual orientation and gender. We believe in helping people of all walks-of-life recover from addiction and/or mental illness, instead of denying them treatment that will save a life.

Substance Abuse is Rising Within the LGBTQ Community

People who are of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer orientation have higher rates of alcoholism and drug abuse than this of the general population. The main reason why substance abuse affects this community more than others is because of the stigma associated with being who they are (sexual orientation or gender identity), and being discriminated against because of it.

These high levels of stress on a daily basis can cause depression and anxiety, leading a person to engage in drinking alcohol and taking drugs. As a result, usage over a long period, causes dependency, quickly leading to addiction.

Many studies have shown that there are high rates of binge drinking and illicit drug use, specifically with gay men and others showing increased rates of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in lesbians.

However, the case studies have also stated there are no significant differences in the use of drugs and alcohol between the heterosexual and homosexual populations, male and female.

Despite the varying inconclusive evidence presented in research in regards to the LGBTQ community, conclusive analysis by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services has proven the above statement to be true.

The Link Between Substance Abuse and LGBTQ Community

People who are of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer orientation have higher rates of alcoholism and drug abuse than the general population. In other words, 20 to 30 percent of the LGBTQ+ youth are affected by substance use disorders (SUD), while the other 8.4 percent affected are heterosexuals.

The main reason why substance abuse affects this community more than others is because of the stigma associated with being who they are (sexual orientation or gender identity), and being discriminated against because of it.

These high levels of stress on a daily basis can cause depression and anxiety, leading a person to engage in drinking alcohol and taking drugs. As a result, usage over a long period, causes dependency, quickly leading to addiction.

Cause and Effect

The main question is, why is the LGBTQ+ community affected by high rates of substance abuse more than the rest of the population?

The answer is because of cause and effect. As mentioned above, this group of people who identify as LGBTQ frequently are faced with obstacles of stigma, discrimination, including being rejected by friends and family.

In other words, there is a psychological phenomenon called the mind-body connection. The mind and body are connected, and when one is not well, the other reacts in conjunction. When someone abuses drugs and/or alcohol, the brain becomes tolerant, dependent, and addicted to these substances, producing a reaction in the body.

Why Substance Abuse Has Become Prevalant in the LGBTQ Community

A precedent has been set where people live in an unsupportive culture of homophobia, being bullied for who they are, and lack of support and acceptance from those closest to them. The strain that is placed on individuals who identify themselves as LGBTQ, especially youth, is insurmountable.

A person under this extreme amount of chronic stress causes negative health outcomes, physically and psychologically. These include mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, poor decision making, and physical issues such as heart disease, stroke, seizures, etc.

To manage these symptoms, people commonly turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping., This only leads to further complications, which often result in coma or deaths due to health complications or overdose-related incidences.

Bars and clubs have been a traditional meeting place for people of the LGBTQ community to socialize, feel safe and accepted, and escape the harsh realities of life. Thus, experimentation with drugs and alcohol has been made even more accessible. In many of these venues, smoking, and drinking are omnipresent, resulting in higher rates of alcohol and drug use.

Through proper understanding, accommodation, and acceptance of LGBTQ+ beliefs, substance abuse, and mental illness can be accurately diagnosed, treated, and managed successfully.

LGBTQ Addiction Statistics and Substance Abuse Trends

The statistics surrounding substance abuse rates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals are astonishing and still demonstrates a clear trend of bias towards this community versus the general population.

The numbers speak for themselves, as national research conducted by health organizations such as Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), has shown that addiction is twice as prevalent in LGBT youths compared with other minority groups.

In October 2016, SAMHSA was the first to use research from the NSDUH, to study the effects of substance abuse among people of various sexual orientations. The report showed that adults who specifically identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual experience higher rates of substance abuse and mental illness than heterosexual adults.

The survey also indicated that these members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to go to a residential or outpatient rehab facility to seek treatment for substance use disorders and mental health conditions, or both simultaneously, known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.

While using drugs and alcohol is a choice, there are contributing factors that lead us to behave in a certain way. Addictive behavior is the result or consequence of a bad choice, but one that was not just brought upon suddenly.

As said above, the trends show that this rise in substance abuse cases in the LGBTQ community is a matter of cause and effect. The daily battles of discrimination and stigma push gay and transgender individuals, for example, to use drugs and alcohol as a defense mechanism or outlet to relieve pain and stress thrust upon them.

Danger of Numbers

While evidence has proven that there is a trend of increased substance abuse amongst people who identify as LGTBQ, the exact rate of substance use disorders isn’t well-known. Therefore, it is important to avoid making assumptions when dealing with a group that already is stigmatized.

There is a major danger that comes with throwing out statistics on such a prevalent topic such as this. Numbers only play a part of the story, and in this case, because there is still discrimination occurring in the LGBTQ community, deterring people from getting treatment for addiction and mental health, greatly demonstrates that needs haven’t been met yet, and more research and development needs to be done in order to find a better solution to the problem.

Finding A Solution

Jeremy Goldbach, Ph.D., LMSW, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California School of Social Work, stated that research needs to be more than just reports in order to figure out why the LGBTQ community is singled out when it comes to rates of substance abuse.

Not only that, but, why studies on this topic only focus in on just the high rates of substance use among gay youth, but not actually on the people or group themselves.

When examining such important issues such as addiction and suicide, it is clear why LGBTQ individuals have issues. Goldbach believes that researchers spend too much of their time focusing on examining the differences between two populations to find their answers.

He strongly suggests that the emphasis should be placed not so much on why the rates of substance abuse are so high for one population and not the other, but on finding a solution to this major ongoing problem.

Researchers who are examining the reasonings behind there the increased rates of substance abuse in the LGBTQ community should solely utilize the data’s results and conclusive evidence to help these individuals gain better access to substance abuse treatment and recovery resources, so underlying issues can be identified, and most importantly, rates of substance use and relapse can decrease.

Factors Leading to High Rates of Substance Abuse and the Need for Treatment

As mentioned above, discrimination is one of the main reasons for the prevalence of alcohol and drug use amongst LGBTQ youth. There are alternative factors that have also contributed to the high rates of substance use. These include:

Self-Identity Stress

Many gay and transgender people, for example, live with high levels of chronic stress, fear, and anxiety, because they face adversity for just wanting to be their authentic selves. If it is not hurting you, why care?

While that may be the logical and kind notion to have, unfortunately, this type of understanding doesn’t always exist. There are cruel people who place social prejudice and discriminate against the LGBTQ community in areas of daily life, employment, relationships, and health care. That is why it can be difficult for people who identify as LGBTQ to receive health care benefits and treatment for a condition such as addiction or mental illness.

Discrimination in Relationships

While same-sex marriage was made legal in all 50 states in 2015, discrimination for the LGBTQ community exists. Gay couples are still stopped from being able to access the various public policies and programs designs to protect and support a family’s economic security. This includes things like child care tax credits, social security, health insurance sponsored by employment, and the ability to sponsor a partner for citizenship.

Discrimination in the Workplace

In 2019, about 50 percent of LGBTQ individuals in the United States live in locations where they could be fired for their gender identity and sexual orientation. On May 17, 2019, the United States House of Representatives passed The Equality Act. This act prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, especially in the workplace.

However, even though this was put into place, LGBTQ individuals still experience prejudice because of who they are or love in the workplace on a daily basis, due to a lack of explicit laws protecting them. For example, people are fired, refused training and promotions, and harassed at their jobs. This is especially true for transgender individuals.

Workplace discrimination not only poses a real threat to gay and transgender employees themselves but also to their economic security and job stability.

Discrimination in Healthcare

Healthcare discrimination is one of the major reasons why substance abuse rates in LGBTQ communities are on the rise. Not being liked for their gender identity and sexual orientation has made it hard for LQBTQ youth and adults to earn a steady income. This makes it harder for them to support their families and loved ones, or have access to employer-provided health insurance and employee benefits.

These issues don’t only affect and impact the person who is being discriminated against, but it also threatens the well-being of other relationships. These individuals could be a partner, parent, sibling, or child who may be financially dependent on that person.

Most importantly, this hinders a person who may need addiction treatment from being able to receive it, emphasizing the present gap in healthcare and the demand or need for care. Lacking access to affordable healthcare and cultural competency is a major contributor to minority stress.

Research has proven that gay and lesbian adults are about twice as likely to be withheld from health insurance coverage, while bisexual and transgender individuals face high rates of being uninsured.

Most people in the United States gain access to health insurance through their employers or are listed as a dependent on their partner’s insurance plan. However, our nation lacks an affordable public health insurance system.

Even though the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, made it mandatory for all insurance companies to cover all or partial costs for addiction treatment, due to widespread workplace discrimination, many LGBTQ individuals are denied access to health insurance through an employer.

However, for workplaces that are more accepting, the cost of insurance is still higher for same-sex couples, because in order to receive benefits they have to pay taxes, unlike heterosexual couples.

Stigma in the LGBTQ Community

This lack of acceptance, incompetence, and discriminatory behavior, does extreme harm to individuals of all walks of life, but, especially for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.

Gay and transgender individuals may delay receiving addiction treatment services and resources, because of denial, being unaware of their needs, or scared because they don’t know what to expect.

Because of the extreme stigma that exists, people are unfortunately told to feel embarrassed, guilty, and ashamed of who they are. As a result, addicted and mentally ill individuals are discouraged from seeking necessary professional help and treatment for their substance abuse issues, which only exacerbates their condition even more, which can lead to overdose and death.

As a result, on top of delaying substance abuse treatment, LQBTQ individuals who may choose to go to rehab, may not disclose their sexual or gender identity, which greatly undermines one’s recovery process and overall health.

Commonly Abused Substances By LGTBQ Youth

LGBT youth use alcohol and drugs for many of the same reasons as heterosexuals, however, they tend to be more vulnerable as a result of needing to hide who they are, causing social isolation, and the development of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, if it doesn’t already pre-exist.

After all, mental illness is a major risk factor for substance abuse. Common substances abused by LGBTQ individuals include alcohol and drugs, such as marijuana, opioids (prescription painkillers), cocaine, etc.

Reduce Rates by Raising Awareness

Evidence has proven that gay youth is at the greatest risk for developing dependency and addiction to drugs and alcohol, compared to the general population.

These alarming statistics stress a major need for more substance use recovery programs that cater to LGBTQ+ individuals. The demand is there, but a solution to close the gap between needing treatment and actually receiving it needs to be developed.

LGBTQ+ Substance Abuse Treatment

While things have come a long way in the legalization of same-sex marriage and acceptance of other individuals for who they are, substance abuse is still very much prevalent for LGBTQ youth and adults.

Commonly, LGBTQ individuals may be discouraged from seeking treatment for addiction because of previous negative experiences in coming out to health care providers or having heard about other people’s bad experiences when seeking treatment.

It is ideal for providers to promote that they’re LGBTQ friendly and to direct people to the right substance abuse treatment services that will fit their specific needs.

At Unity Behavioral Health, our team creates a tailored and comprehensive treatment plan for each patient to fit their specific recovery goals. Depending on a variety of factors, the type of program you will be a candidate for may include:

  • Residential treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
  • Aftercare
  • Sober Living

In these addiction treatment programs, we provide the following comprehensive services including:

You Are Not Alone: Unity Behavioral Health Supports the LGBTQ+ Community

At Unity Behavioral Health, with our team of highly trained medical professionals, behavioral and addiction specialists, are accepting of all individuals no matter their race, age, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.

The world of addiction, rehab, and recovery can be frightening, overwhelming, and filled with uncertainty all at the same time.

Whether you or someone you know is battling addiction, and don’t know what to expect when entering recovery, know that you are not alone in your fight! You probably have millions of questions to ask, and are unsure where to find the answers.

A lack of health care education and resources is one of the main causes of concern surrounding addiction treatment. There is a demand for it, yet it is not being met, and therefore, causing people to avoid getting help or cannot easily access it to be able to receive the essential care that they so desperately need.

Especially for people who identify as LGBTQ+, they have to overcome several obstacles throughout all stages of their lives. Sadly but reality, because of an individual’s sexual identity, they can be denied the right to receive treatment for substance abuse.

As Unity’s philosophy of care does not coincide with these discriminatory beliefs, our team has created a hub of essential tools and resources for anyone in the community who may need answers, clarity, and reassurance about anything relating to addiction treatment and recovery.

If you or a loved one is suffering and needs treatment for drug and alcohol addiction and/or mental illness, don’t wait, and contact us at our facility today! For emergencies, call our helpline at (561) 708-5295.

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