Substance abuse in the LGBTQIAA+ Community: The Causes and Road to Recovery
By: Desiree Valadez , Contributing Writer
Edited by: Fauzia Haque, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief
LGBTQIAA+ is an acronym that describes persons who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Aromantic, and more. These terms are used to represent a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The LGBTQ+ community has a greater prevalence of substance misuse than the heterosexual population. This is due in part to a variety of societally imposed barriers that they encounter daily compared to people who identify as heterosexual. A few examples of these challenges include discrimination or stigmatization based on sexual orientation, hate crimes, emotional abuse, threats, public humiliation or ridicule, rejection or shame from family or friends after coming out, loss of employment or not receiving promotions, internalized homophobia or self-hatred, etc. Another great conflict that may lead to substance abuse is that members of the LGBTQ+ community may experience internal struggles as a result of being obliged to live a "closeted" lifestyle. To avoid rejection, people hide their sexuality or gender identity from others and almost live a double life. In addition to the societal challenges they face, a member of the LGBTQ+ community may also be experiencing physical complications or health issues related to their sexuality like compulsive sexual behavior, sexual dysfunction, sex or HIV-related anxiety, and sexual abuse or assault, which would lead them to substance abuse. Often, people in mental crisis who experience the types of things that those in the LGBTQ+ community are prone to experiencing will turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate to cope with the prejudice they confront in everyday life. Substances can help dull unpleasant sensations such as despair, worry, rage, or terror for a short period.
According to information from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 37.6% of sexual minority individuals 18 and older admitted to using marijuana in the previous year, compared to 16.2% of the general adult population. In the previous year, 9 percent of sexual minority people aged 18 and older reported using opioids (including prescription opioid abuse and heroin use), compared to 3.8 percent of the general adult population. Furthermore, because of negative stigma and prejudice, transgender and non-binary individuals are more likely to turn to addictive substances to cope with emotions of worry or loneliness. Transgender children are 2.5 times more likely to use cocaine or meth, and they are twice as likely to abuse prescription pharmaceuticals.
Many sexual minorities who are struggling with addiction are afraid to seek therapy in a standard treatment center. Participants in group therapy, as well as certain clinicians, may engage in homophobic conduct or make improper statements. Specialists suggest that psychotherapy should focus on specific aspects of these patients' lives, such as homophobia/transphobia, familial issues, violence, and social isolation. Due to this high amount of substance disorders among the LGBTQ+ community, some LGBTQ-specific treatment centers have been created. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction treatment programs that include specialist groups for LGBTQ+ people had better results than non-specialized programs.
If you or someone you know is part of the LGBTQ+ community and struggles with addiction, it is important that you find a specialized rehabilitation center. By being admitted to a rehabilitation center that specializes in LGBTQ+ addiction and care, one will have the impression of being a part of the majority rather than the minority. These rehab centers will make one be surrounded by individuals that can provide support and encouragement. For example, if you live in the San Francisco (SF) area, the New Bridge Foundation is surrounded by a staff of licensed professionals and certified addiction counselors who understand how to support members of the LGBTQ+ community. They strive to provide the best care possible, and they offer things like detox programs, short-term residential rehab, short-term outpatient rehab, and long-term residential rehab. This foundation is just one of the many centers that could help you or your loved one. If you do not live in SF, type in “LGBTQ+ rehab centers near me” to your search engines and you'll be on your way to recovery.
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