Addiction In The LGBT Community

Each year in the United States, millions of people struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Even more people face this disorder worldwide. The LGBT community is no exception. In fact, persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender face a higher potential for risk of substance abuse than may others. This is largely due to obstacles they face personally, socially, and emotionally from identifying as members of the LGBT community. While it is clear that persons in this community face substance abuse, what people may not know is that treatment for this abuse requires delicate and specialized care.

What You Need To Know About Addiction In The LGBT Community

One of the biggest obstacles to treatment in the LGBT community is stigma. Previous negative associations with members of this community may hinder them from getting the help they need. As the Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies explains, members of this community may have experienced oppressive, discriminatory practices during treatment, and may yet experience these in the future. It doesn’t have to be this way—a growing number of compassionate and LGBT-friendly treatment options exist.

Addiction In The LGBT Community Treatment Options

Persons afflicted with substance abuse or addiction who are also part of the LGBT community have specific treatment needs. Previously, these needs were not being met. As an article on Advocate states, “LGBT addiction is not the same as straight addiction” and has to be treated accordingly. For instance, men and women each have certain needs during treatment. For men, it may be hard to open up emotionally, and recovering in a male-only environment may allow them the security they need to cope. Women face deep, emotional issues during recovery, and need specialized care to address these issues. Similarly, LGBT members face common problems which require treatment appropriate for their disorders.

Some difficult facts about the substance abuse problem among LGBT community members, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), are as follows:

  • LGBT people are more likely than non-LGBT people to abuse drugs or alcohol
  • They have higher rates of substance abuse as well
  • In seeking treatment, they are less likely to participate in abstinence
  • For those affected by alcohol abuse, they are more likely to continue abuse later in life
  • Nearly 30% of all lesbians have an alcohol abuse problem
  • Gay men are highly likely to abuse the following: barbiturates, marijuana, cocaine, psychedelics, hallucinogens, stimulants, sedatives, and MDMA (ecstasy)

While SAMHSA admits that all communities have particular reasons which contribute to substance abuse risk, it recognizes that some clinicians who treat LGBT members strongly believe these people may be at further risk. Stressors resulting from being part of such a small, marginalized community may cause members to seek alternative ways to cope, including drug and alcohol abuse.

What You Need To Know About Treatment For LGBT People

At its core, treatment for LGBT people is the same as that for others seeking treatment. Many methods are available. To ensure comprehensive treatment, which addresses any and all disorders and health concerns, a person may utilize a combination of methods, such as:

Addiction In The LGBT Community Substance Abuse Factors

  • Medical detox: this process allows a person to safely and comfortably detox from the substance of abuse, avoiding or significantly alleviating the more acute symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: this teaches participants to change their lifestyle habits and form new ones which help them to build a life free from addiction. It also helps people to engage in activities free from substance abuse, and to live a more fulfilled life as a result.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): some people may need medication therapy for any number of disorders, such as co-occurring disorders, mental disorders they may have at the same time as substance abuse, or other health concerns. In some cases, medication may assist with the severity of the withdrawal process.
  • Counseling: often available at family, group, and individual levels, this method gives members an outlet for the myriad of emotions and thoughts that occur in the treatment process. It may also allow members to connect with others in recovery and share ways to cope.

However, LGBT members may also need help addressing deep, emotional issues. For example, SAMHSA cites gender identity or sexual orientation as some of the issues participants tend to face. Some may have underlying homophobia which they need to address as well, due to the denigrating impact of heterosexism. Working through these problems is a key component of treatment. This can be a delicate process, but it must be a complete one. For many, unresolved issues are the reason they continue to abuse substances. Because of this, recovery should be completed in a welcoming environment which fosters a holistic (of the mind and body) approach.

Addiction In The LGBT Community Addiction

In addition, when considering treatment, it is important to consider several factors which affect it. Funding can be troublesome, as cost can be great. Fortunately there are many programs available to help people, such as state-funded treatment programs, state insurance (like Medicaid), scholarships and grants, and for some facilities, payments based on a sliding fee scale for those who qualify. Funding should never be the reason someone cannot get the help they need.

Addiction In The LGBT Community Disorders

The level of severity of abuse is another thing to consider: does a person need inpatient care at a hospital or rehabilitation center, or will they be able to complete treatment from home? Finally, treatment should assess and properly care for any and all disorders a person faces. For instance, if a person has both depression (a mental health disorder) and alcoholism (a substance use disorder), then treatment should meet the needs of both. In any case, it is important to have connections and resources at your disposal when making decisions.

Getting Treatment In The LGBT Community

Contact us if you or a loved are considering treatment.Weathering tensions in the small, often misunderstood LGBT community may have you feeling like you are on this journey alone. But many members face issues and substance use disorders similar to yours. Do not let substance abuse and the negative stigma get the better of your life. Contact us today at to reach professionals who will listen to your unique situation. We will help find a treatment plan that meets your individual needs, and direct you to the resources you need to start your recovery.

Advocate—LGBT Addiction Is Not The Same As Straight Addiction
Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration—A Provider’s Introduction To Substance Abuse Treatment For LGBT Individuals