Updated May 26, 2023

Substance use disorder, sometimes known as substance abuse, can affect people from any community. It is a growing epidemic as people use and abuse drugs and alcohol. However, for some communities, alcoholism and drug abuse can be more invasive. The LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-plus) community deals with a lot of discrimination. This pressure makes them more vulnerable to substance abuse disorders. The National Survey of Drug Use and Health defines adults and teenagers within this community as the “sexual minority.” The survey noted in 2015, LGBTQ+ adults were more than twice as likely than heterosexual adults to have used any illicit drug in the past year.

Substance Abuse Disorder Affecting the LGBTQ+ Community 

The LGBTQ+ community faces constant adversity. There is still a battle happening to receive equal rights in the workplace and at home. The good thing is that change is happening slowly but surely. However, while they fight for their freedoms, they are also dealing with a war on substance abuse. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) noted that 2.1 million LGB people over the age of 18 have a substance abuse disorder. There are approximately 8 million adults who identify as LGBTQ+ in the United States. Over a fourth of adults who identify as LGBTQ+ have struggled with substance abuse.

Substance abuse splits into two groups: drugs and alcohol. People who are in the LGBTQ+ communities may struggle with one of these things, or they may deal with both options. Even LGBTQ+ adolescents are 90% more likely to use substances than their heterosexual counterparts. Among LGBTQ+ adults, 1 in 2 struggled with illicit drugs, including opioids, heroin, cocaine, etc.

Combining Alcohol and Drugs

The U.S. Census Bureau found that LGBTQ+ adults are known for having a higher percentage of binge drinking, which leads to alcohol abuse disorder. From within those numbers, surveys have advised that younger adults are more likely to have an alcohol abuse disorder. Studies have shown that 7 in 10 LGBTQ+ adults struggle with alcohol use, and in 2018 SAMSHA noted that 12.4% of LGBTQ+ adults from 18-25 would have an alcohol use disorder. LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to need treatment for more severe substance abuse disorders.

In fact, 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ adults struggled with both illicit substances and alcohol. Recovering from one type of substance abuse disorder can prove challenging enough, but dealing with multiple things can be even harder. LGBTQ+ adults also are more likely to deal with additional (comorbid or co-occurring) psychiatric disorders if they are dealing with substance abuse. 5.7 million LGBTQ+ adults had a mental illness, and out of that, over 1.5 million had both a substance abuse disorder and mental illness.

The Hidden Disorders within Substance Abuse

When screening someone for substance abuse disorders, it is essential to see if there is a mental or psychiatric problem associated with it. Finding a psychiatric disorder, as advised earlier, is not uncommon. However, knowing about all disorders will help professionals find the best treatment to help the patient. This point is even more critical for people in the LGBTQ+ community, as thorough evaluation will assist with finding the most effective treatment. Not diagnosing a psychiatric disorder could lead to relapses or other issues. Mental problems can include depression, anxiety, or panic attacks. Checking people for all possible things will help them get the best help possible. 

Substance abuse can be a symptom of a psychiatric disorder. People abuse drugs and alcohol to cope with mental problems. The issue with this is that many people misuse alcohol and drugs this way. They find that alcohol is a bandaid for professional help and become dependant and develop an addiction. Another factor comes from undiagnosed people with psychiatric or substance abuse disorders. Those with unveiled disorders may have suicidal tendencies. Among the LGBTQ+ community, there is an increase in suicidal behavior. It is a sad thought that these people lost their lives due to addiction. 

How can we Help LGBTQ+ Communities Fight Substance Abuse Disorders?

However, there are steps to help fight addiction, and the best way to battle substance abuse is treatment. Transgender individuals are more likely to see help for substance abuse treatment than the non-transgender population. The best way to help with the high rates of substance abuse is to make treatment readily accessible. We also need to be more proactive with research to find the best methods of fighting substance abuse for the LGBTQ+ community. 

In 2003-2004, surveys were done to look at LGBTQ+ specific programs, and 70.8% actually did not do anything different in their LGBTQ+ specific treatment. The treatment proved to be the standard procedures. However, some research has advised that the standard substance abuse treatments are effective for gay or bisexual men. This includes modalities like interviewing, social support therapy, contingency management, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Studies have shown treatment plans that specialize in groups for gay and bisexual men show better outcomes. 

Available Options for LGBTQ+ Adults

As of right now treatment for LGBTQ+ patients still needs work. One study shows that only 7.4% of rehab programs have specialized services for LGBTQ+ patients. These programs are effective. If the research were conducted for all sexual minorities, we would be able to find more effective treatment methods. More research needs to be put into LGBTQ+ treatment plans. By finding out what treatments work for each part of the community, we can help kick the addiction to the curb. This will help the LGBTQ+ community have lower substance abuse rates, and perhaps even lower suicidal rates. 

For anyone dealing with addiction, it can be hard to find a treatment plan or strategy. It’s important to find the best one that will work well for you. Whether or not you have a specialized program in your area, it is never too late to find help. In fact, Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford offers custom inpatient and outpatient treatment plans for a variety of substance abuse disorders. They deal with alcoholism, prescription drugs, methamphetamine, and many other substances. If you or someone you love needs help, the best thing to do is reach out for help today.