Believe it or not, substance abuse is a critical issue affecting LGBTQ+ communities. Many LGBTQ+ people suffer from addiction, which can take many forms, ranging from heavy and binge drinking to using more potent substances, including heroin, methamphetamines, and opiates. According to statistics, LGBTQ+ individuals are nearly twice as likely to experience a substance use disorder. They are more than twice as likely to use illegal substances than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. In this article, we’ll get to the bottom of these concerns, find out why substance abuse in LGBTQ+ communities is so prevalent, and what we can do about it.
Why Are So Many LGBTQ+ Individuals Abusing Substances?
There are a few main reasons why members of LGBTQ+ communities tend to have higher rates of substance abuse. Some of them are:
Many people experience stress to a certain degree. However, here we’re not just talking about everyday stress caused by exams or deadlines. Instead, we’re talking about the pressure caused by discrimination and social stigma. The most obvious influence on substance use comes from direct harassment and abuse. However, exposure to insults at school or seeing unfavorable stereotypes on TV can also have an effect. Although LGBTQ+ rights have made significant progress over the past 20 years, many LGBTQ+ individuals experience stigma, rejection, and unfair work practices daily. Chronic stress can cause mental health conditions and raise the risk of substance misuse.
Lack of Support
To prevent prejudice and even various types of discrimination, many members of LGBTQ+ communities decide to stay “in the closet” and conceal their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Living a parallel life like this might make someone feel lonely and anxious.
On the other hand, those who decide to come out may experience rejection from family and friends. According to research, a young person’s likelihood of using substances reduces as their family’s acceptance of their LGBTQ+ identity grows. In other words, young people are more likely to use substances if their parents or other adults respond poorly when they discover their LGBTQ+ identities, even if these relationships improve with time. A lack of LGBTQ+ communities, support groups, and mentorship programs can worsen the situation. All of this lack of support can lead LGBTQ+ people to frequently utilize substances to help numb the pain
Many individuals in LGBTQ+ communities experience internalized homophobia, regardless of whether their relatives and friends accept them. Self-hatred and an inability to feel at ease in one’s skin are frequent outcomes. In those cases, substances can be a way for those with internalized homophobia to silence their unpleasant thoughts. Instead of being their genuine selves all the time, they may use substances to finally feel comfortable with themselves.
Find Your Community
It’s 2022. Many colleges in the country have some form of an LGBTQ+ club where you can meet students with similar identities. You can discuss your experiences and shared interests in these groups. Finding and building a community is something that can have a huge, positive effect on your mental health.
In the end, you may also benefit from attending one of our OutTalk panels, where people from the LGBTQ+ community have an opportunity to share their experiences along with helpful resources.
Marketing to LGBTQ+ Communities
Finally, marketing is among the least mentioned causes of high substance abuse in LGBTQ+ communities. LGBTQ+ communities have often found their communities inside bars and clubs. Many individuals frequenting these establishments also participate in activities like drinking, smoking, and using other substances. LGBTQ+ people are more likely to use substances, often more frequently, the more time they spend in surroundings such as bars and clubs. Moreover, throughout history, many tobacco and alcohol companies have aggressively marketed their products specifically to LGBTQ+ communities.
While it’s often difficult to talk about preventing substance abuse in LGBTQ+ individuals who suffer from mental health conditions and use substances, there are ways to reduce substance use. For example, LGBTQ+ people can find healthy coping mechanisms by joining LGBTQ+ social groups, such as at schools and universities, or building a support system in their friendship group. Engaging in meaningful activities, exercising together, and discussing one’s concerns can significantly benefit mental health and overall well-being. Finding coping mechanisms not tied to substances is the first step to living happier, healthier lives.
Knowing the Signs
There’s nothing wrong with partying every once in a while and having a drink with your friends. However, behaviors can be worrying when they turn into a daily routine. You might think, “I’m in college, so this is completely normal,” but you should still know what signs to watch out for. Moreover, even if you do not use substances, support your LGBTQ+ friends who might. Spotting early warning signs of addiction in your friends and reaching out to help can save lives.
Due to a lack of services and identity-related stigma, many members of LGBTQ+ communities might be reluctant to seek treatment for substance use problems.
Fortunately, there are programs for addiction treatment that focus on the needs of LGBTQ+ populations specifically. They often offer tailored treatment plans. To support each person’s healing and rehabilitation, rehab facilities specializing in treating LGBTQ+ people may also pay attention to co-occurring mental health concerns, which include anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Substance abuse in LGBTQ+ communities is a huge concern that shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Instead, it should be actively addressed. While conversations around this topic and prevention methods can help reduce the numbers a little bit, they’re not all we can do. Understanding risk factors and the importance of including mental health and minority stress in these conversations is also very important. In the end, it’s all about providing the members of LGBTQ+ communities with resources that will help them find their community along with healthier coping mechanisms.
Learn more by joining our upcoming OutTalk episode: Understanding SUD Disparities Among LGBTQ+ People: January 19th, 2023 @6 p.m. EST (3 p.m. PST).