No matter where a person is from or who they are, developing a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) can happen to anyone. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 18.7 million people age 18 or older had a substance use disorder in the United States.
The LGBTQIA+ community faces a higher risk of substance use than those reported by cisgender and/or heterosexual adults, according to data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Members of the community face a higher risk of challenges, such as harassment and loss of employment. This can lead to using substances to cope.
Substance use can become detrimental as LGBTQIA+ individuals face:
A Higher Risk of Harassment & Violence
Despite growing acceptance in the United States, LGBTQIA+ individuals continue to live in a predominantly “hetero world” as described in a 2019 study. They continue to face homophobia and/or gender based discrimination, which can lead to harassment and violence. This threat can come from the workplace, the public, and even family, despite rulings such as Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that protects LGBTQIA+ workers.
Individuals may find themselves using substances to manage the fear of rejection, and the trauma from being stigmatized, harassed and/or experiencing violence from those who are not accepting of their sexual and/or gender orientation.
Higher Levels of Stress in Their Daily Lives
This increased risk of violence and harassment can lead to a LGBTQIA+ person experiencing a higher level of stress compared to those who identify as cisgender and/or heterosexual. As stress continues individuals may turn to alcohol or other substances in order to cope. As stressors continue and a tolerance to the mood altering substance develops, an increase in the amount of substance used will be necessary to cope with the stress. Ultimately, this could lead to a diagnosis of a SUD.
LGBTQIA+ Culture Norms
Socialization within the LGBTQIA+ community often occurs within environments and events where there is an abundance of substances. Additionally, some may feel both internal and external pressure to use a substance to better fit in with their LGBTQIA+ peers during their identity development.
A Higher Risk of Co-Occurring Health Issues
Sexual minorities are at a higher risk of experiencing physical and/or mental health co-occurring disorders such as:
- Eating disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Sexually transmitted infections & diseases
Dealing with these medical and mental health issues can interfere with the ability to seek substance use treatment. Other barriers that may impact an individual to seek treatment may include a lack of a healthy support system, lack of health insurance, and the fear of being discriminated while in treatment by both staff and other clients.
A Lack of Professional Support
When it comes to treatment options, there is a limited amount of culturally competent SUD treatment options that are able to assist the unique needs of a LGBTQIA+ person. In a 2015 study, there were huge treatment gaps for the treatment of mental illness and substance use disorders.
This trend continued into 2019, where the majority of substance use treatment among LGBTQIA+ individuals came from self-help groups instead of a doctor’s office or a treatment facility.
The lack of support can create feelings of loneliness and anxiety increasing the risk to use a substance.
PreventEd Can Help
This is where PreventEd comes in.
As a leader in the prevention of the harms of alcohol and drug use through education, intervention and advocacy we have the resources available to find safe and reliable LGBTQIA+-specific SUD treatment for those who need it. We can also provide resources for those who are uninsured or underinsured.
Recognizing the signs of a substance use disorder will go a long way in recognizing when you or a loved one needs help. Our professional, certified counselors are ready to answer your questions and provide you with the help you need, when you need it.