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LGBTQ Pride Month: A Spotlight on Substance Abuse

During June, we celebrate Pride Month. Pride Month not only celebrates self-love but also raises awareness of key issues related to the LGBTQ community, such as addiction.

The dual nature of addiction in the LGBTQ community.

There is no discrimination in addiction and alcoholism - these diseases affect people regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or socio-economic status.

In the United States, alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death after tobacco, poor diet, and physical inactivity, and illegal drugs, killing more than 140,000 people annually (about 97,000 men and 43,000 women).

The number of deaths related to drug overdoses in 2021 was 106,699, a record. Between January and September 2022, 79,117 Americans died of overdoses, fewer than the 81,155 deaths during the first nine months of 2021, but still 50 percent higher than pre-2020 levels.

However, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out, “Studies have shown that when compared with the general population, gay and bisexual men, lesbian, and transgender individuals are more likely to:

  • Use alcohol and drugs,

  • Have higher rates of substance abuse,

  • Not withhold from alcohol and drug use, and

  • Continue heavy drinking into later life.”

It might seem obvious why those rates are higher, but lack of acceptance remains a driving force behind the use of drugs and alcohol by young LGBTQ people. Heather Zayde, a Brooklyn-based clinical social worker and psychotherapist, discussed the topic with Healthline in 2019. She explained that young people often worry about not being accepted by those closest to them, such as their families and peers. Oftentimes, these kids have ‘no escape from that fear’ of rejection, and oftentimes substances can become an easy ‘go-to’ for them to help regulate their emotions.”

It is important to note, however, that the fear of rejection isn't exclusive to younger LGBTQ individuals.

LGBTQ addiction isn't just caused by acceptance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) often face social stigma, discrimination, and other challenges not encountered by people who identify as heterosexual. They also face a greater risk of harassment and violence. As a result of these and other stressors, sexual minorities are at increased risk for various behavioral health issues.”

Additionally, experts in the field point out that LGBTQ members face internal pressure as well.

“The emotional stress that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals often feel — including rejection, isolation and low self-esteem — as well as the threats of physical violence, prejudice and discrimination, make them vulnerable to addiction,” writes Dr. Jonathan Horey, chief medical officer at Sunspire Health, for the Huffington Post. “At the same time, these factors decrease the likelihood that they will receive effective treatment. Too often, members of the LGBT community face internalized stigma and homophobia. These internal struggles with themselves can make it more difficult to seek out or achieve long-term recovery.”

Substance use disorders among LGBT individuals.

In the LGBTQ community, addiction is more likely to develop due to a few factors. A substance use disorder may also result from the stress associated with overcoming specific obstacles, such as the following:

  • Discrimination. LGBTQ people often face discrimination in all aspects of their lives. The challenges of overcoming discrimination can be significantly greater regardless of whether it occurs in a systematic way or comes from a specific individual.

  • There is an unavoidable prejudice. While the LGBT community is more accepted than ever before, the prejudice others hold against them may result in people with substance use disorders. At home, in school, or at work, the community is stigmatized.

  • Stress. Due to constant stress and worry about violence and prejudice, LGBTQ people may self-medicate with different substances, sometimes developing addictions.

  • Trauma. As a result of bullying, harassment, and violence in the LGBTQ community, traumatic events are strongly related to substance use disorders.

  • Marketing that is targeted. Specific bars may have a special meaning to gays or transgender people. As a result, these substances, including tobacco and alcohol, are frequently marketed to LGBT individuals.

  • Recognizing relationships. Due to the lack of acceptance of same-sex marriage or its complete ignorance, members of the LGBTQ community are unable to access certain insurance benefits, resulting in economic hardship.

  • Housing and employment. Stability in your employment or housing situation is crucial to your financial and economic well-being. The problem, however, is that LGBTQ persons frequently face discrimination in every form, making finding a job or a place to live significantly more challenging.

The connection between substance use and belonging to the LGBT community makes it imperative that those with substance use disorders seek immediate treatment.

Barriers to treatment within the LGBTQ community.

People are prevented from receiving the treatment that they need due to stigma. Minority groups, therefore, face higher addiction risk. Additionally, behavioral health conditions are further exacerbated when LGBT individuals cannot access the same resources and treatment as non-LGBTQ individuals.

The connection between LGBTQ+ and addiction has been clarified, so we need to look at what prevents people in the LGBTQ+ community from seeking addiction treatment.

Politics, as well as lack of financial and social support, are major contributing factors. The LGBTQ community faces a variety of problems, including substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, food insecurity, and increased health risks. As a result of bias and discrimination, many people suffer from mental illness. A lack of insurance benefits is also a problem for them.

Because of this, a wide gap exists between those who want addiction treatment and those who actually do.

How important is it to have an addiction treatment program that is LGBTQ-friendly?

If you have ever experienced discrimination or hostility because of your sexuality, you know the importance of programs that cater to the needs of the LGBT+ community. These facilities provide a supportive and accepting environment for LGBTQ+ clients instead of treating them like outsiders.

It has been shown that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people suffer from more substance abuse and mental illness than the majority population of heterosexuals.

Often, treatment services at mainstream treatment centers focus on the heterosexual community, and counselors display homophobia in obvious or subtle ways. The healing process can feel alienating or ostracizing to LGBT+ clients. In a rehab that offers inclusive addiction treatment, the focus is on helping each patient achieve recovery, no matter what their sexual orientation may be.

Additionally, research shows that gay and bisexual men entering substance abuse treatment exhibit unique patterns of substance abuse. The majority of rehab centers offer customized treatment plans based on the needs of individual clients, but some individuals may benefit even more from more customized services.

In what ways are LGBTQ-oriented drug and alcohol rehab centers different from other rehab centers?

In order to live a healthy, sober life, you can't expect quick results. Dedication and hard work are lifelong commitments. It is well worth the effort to transform a life of addiction into a life of recovery, however, since the rewards are immeasurable. It is essential to take small steps forwards on the road to sobriety.

Rehab centers that cater to LGBTQ individuals provide help tailored specifically to their needs. Patients with gay or lesbian orientation, for example, can take advantage of programs available to them. Drug and alcohol treatment programs also accept participants with similar sexual orientations.

In addition, both staff and participants understand the stressors LGBTQ members face due to their sexual orientation. Also, members of the staff receive specialty training to assist LGBTQ patients more effectively. Lastly, LGBTQ members know they will be accepted without judgment or discrimination by facility staff and other program participants.

Rehabilitation centers for LGBTQ individuals provide therapy and treatment to help them resolve issues unique to their community while also providing general addiction treatment. An LGBTQ drug rehab center, for example, might help participants cope with stress without resorting to drugs or alcohol.

Participants might benefit from these programs if they are dealing with:

  • Coming out.

  • Depression treatment.

  • Discrimination.

  • Homophobia.

  • Rejection from family members.

Additionally, transgender individuals can learn how to handle problems related to being misgendered without abusing substances. As a lack of self-acceptance can worsen psychological difficulties for members of these communities, most LGBTQ rehab centers focus on helping participants accept their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Members of the LGBTQ community may benefit from specific treatment programs designed for their specific needs as well as more general programs for substance abuse. People can choose from intensive inpatient programs, where they are under 24-hour supervision, and less immersive outpatient programs, in which they attend treatment without residing at the facility. A substance use treatment program tailored to LGBTQ individuals may differ in terms of the length of treatment and whether it offers medication administration.

Further, a LGBTQ-specific treatment program often begins with detoxification, which involves a set of interventions designed to eliminate the substance from the body and manage withdrawal symptoms.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects the privacy of patients, applies to substance use disorder programs tailored to LGBTQ needs. It is especially important for LGBTQ-specific programs to provide private and confidential care. For people suffering from stigma or other negative consequences due to their sexual identity or addictions, this confidentiality can be vital.

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