About 12 million Americans from all walks of life identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ). These individuals experience problems with alcohol and drugs at higher rates than the rest of the population, perhaps in response to social pressures, lack of acceptance, or discrimination.
Whether you’re concerned about a friend’s or family member’s substance use or you’re evaluating your own use of drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Reaching out for support takes strength, and seeking treatment is the first step toward recovery.
Everyone who has a substance use disorder is dealing with a unique set of challenges, but there are some common experiences among the LGBTQ community.
The process of self-identifying as LGBTQ is a unique and personal experience. For some, expressing or accepting an LGBTQ identity can be confusing, frightening, or uncomfortable. Many LGBTQ individuals may worry about the reactions of their family members, co-workers, and friends — and may experience strained relationships or even rejection. Some people may turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve the stress of various stages of the coming out process, or to cope with a negative reaction to revealing their identity.
No matter where they live or the degree of acceptance and support they receive from their friends and family, many people who identify as LGBTQ encounter homophobia and discrimination at some point in their lives. There are many ways in which this type of discrimination can make itself known. People who are uncomfortable with the LGBTQ community may distance themselves from friends or family members when they come out. Employers or co-workers who are biased against the LGBTQ community may find ways to avoid hiring or supporting career advancement for LGBTQ workers. Unfortunately, gender identity is not a federally protected class, so in some states people can be fired from their jobs for simply being a part of the LGBTQ community. In addition, some criminals target LGBTQ individuals: In 2015, more than 1,000 reported hate crimes resulted from a sexual orientation bias. Survivors of violent crimes, such as sexual assault, often experience symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and PTSD.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for some people, coping with homophobia may be traumatic and can lead to feelings of shame or anxiety about their identity. LGBTQ individuals may use drugs or alcohol to mask unpleasant feelings or memories associated with experiencing homophobia. In addition, some people who develop a dependence on drugs or alcohol may resist seeking help, fearing that admitting to an addiction will add another minority status to their sexual or gender identity.
A strong support network can help prevent the development of substance use disorders; it’s an important part of a healthy life in recovery. However, support networks can aggravate substance use issues and hinder recovery from addiction if social activities, like visiting bars and clubs, center around drug use or drinking. Recovery may mean shifting support networks, finding new friends or social activities, or navigating changing relationships with family members.
Many people use drugs or drink in social settings or to manage pain. It can be difficult to tell when someone’s drug use or drinking has become a problem. Whether you’re worried about a friend or family member or concerned about yourself, recognizing signs of a drug or alcohol problem — like poor health, strained relationships, or social withdrawal — is an important first step toward recovery. Learn about how to recognize the signs of a problem here.
You don’t need to deal with your own or anyone else’s drug or alcohol problems alone. Many treatment centers, outpatient clinics, and community resources across the United States provide special programs to address the distinct challenges of LGBTQ patients and support their recovery process. The resources below can help you take the first step toward recovery.
For LGBTQ teenagers and young adults, the Trevor Project can serve as a resource for addressing issues with relationships, religion, school, mental health, and homelessness. The Trevor Project also provides a 24/7 confidential help line at 1-866-488-7386 and offers text and chat options.
The National Center for Transgender Equality can help transgender individuals know their legal rights, change ID documents, get involved in promoting transgender rights, and learn about transgender issues associated with travel, immigration, employment, and more.
PFLAG provides advocacy, education, and support to the LGBTQ community through local chapters throughout the United States.