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Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ Community : Understanding the Causes and Need for Specialized Treatment

Substance abuse is a major problem becoming prevalent day by day and more so among the members of the LGBTQ community, which consists of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning. The substance abuse problem consists of binge drinking to alcohol abuse and using harder drugs like opioids, heroin and methamphetamines resulting in lot of struggle with addiction in individuals from sexual minority.

According to statistics, the risk of LGBTQ adults when compared to their heterosexual counterparts, when it comes to using illicit drugs, is double and same goes for the risk for suffering from substance abuse disorder.(2)

There are various factors which contribute to increased substance abuse in the LGBTQ community and some of the triggering issues faced by LGBTQ people are:

Lack of Support for LGBTQ People

There is less support for LGBTQ people due to which most of its members do not want to “come out of the closet,” and keep their sexual orientation a secret to avoid hate, discrimination and bullying. This kind of double life gives rise to anxiety and loneliness. For LGBTQ people who are open about their sexual preferences often have to face rejection from friends and family and this is why they resort to substance abuse to cope with their pain and emotions.

Social Stigma and Discrimination

United States being the developed country that it is still has lot of discrimination and homophobia for LGBTQ+ community and they can face this kind of treatment and attitude from not only acquaintances and strangers, but also friends and family. On top of this, LGBTQ people also are under the constant threat of workplace bullying, harassment and even hate crimes.

Internalized Homophobia

The reason why substance abuse is increasing in LGBTQ community is that irrespective of the acceptance by their family and friends; the LGBTQ community members suffer from internalized homophobia. This occurs when they identify anti-gay stigmas in themselves leading to self-loathing and not being able to feel comfortable in their own skin and with their own identity.

So internalized homophobia is one of the reasons why the LGBTQ community turns to drugs and alcohol for dealing with negative thoughts. When they get high or are drunk, it helps them to temporarily forget the loneliness and pain and they can be themselves for a while.

Other Disorders in LGBTQ+ Community

Other than substance abuse in the LGBTQ community, they also suffer greatly from other problems, such as stress, depression and anxiety and are more vulnerable to eating disorders, mood disorders and other kinds of psychiatric issues. Additionally, some members of the LGBTQ community can also experience severe health problems like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases.(1) With these additional medical problems to cope with, it makes it twice as harder to seek treatment for substance abuse and also hinders with the patient’s ability and inclination to seek treatment.

Why Specialized Treatment is Needed for Substance Abuse in LGBTQ+ Community?

As mentioned before, most of the LGBTQ+ community having addiction problems, do not seek help from a conventional treatment center. The reason for this is homophobic attitude from the counselors and group therapy participants. This leads to not sharing anything freely by the recovering addicts, as they feel they are being judged and this prevents them from freely discussing any of their problems which in turn disrupts the process of rehabilitation.

So, it is important that special and specific treatment is designed for LGBTQ individuals, which focuses on coping mechanism for dealing with homophobia, family problems, social isolation, abuse and violence.

Many rehabilitation centers have recognized the need for a different treatment program for the LGBTQ+ community and are providing such kind of treatment programs, which resolve the specific issues faced by the LBGTQ community, which it turn helps in decreasing their substance abuse problems.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563176/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22061339/

Additional Sources:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 14, 2023

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