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Substance Abuse Addiction in the LGBTQ Community: Reasons and Solutions

If popular culture were any indication, by and large individuals in the LGBTQ population are healthy and fit. Gay men in particular are often depicted as being appearance- and health-conscious, logging several hours at the gym to sculpt the perfect body. However, popular culture can be misleading because it only shows certain facets of the LBGTQ community. One thing that popular culture tends to gloss over is the issue of drug abuse and addiction within the LGBTQ population. If you are in Arizona, we recommend you to visit drug rehab Arizona

Substance abuse and addiction affects people from all socio-economic classes, genders, and sexual orientations. However, rates of drug use and addiction are substantially higher within the LGBTQ community than in the heterosexual population – approximately 20 to 30 percent of the LGBTQ population have drug or alcohol abuse issues, versus nine percent of the heterosexual population.

Substance abuse


  • Rates of tobacco use are as much as 200 percent higher among gay and transgender men than among heterosexual and cis-gender men;
  • Gay men are 12.2 times more likely to use amphetamines than heterosexual men;
  • Rates of heavy alcohol use within the LGBTQ population are at an estimated 25 percent, versus five to 10 percent of the straight population; and,
  • Gay men are 9.5 times more likely to use heroin, and 12.2 times more likely to use amphetamines than straight men.

Reasons for the Higher Rates of Abuse

The biggest factor in the higher rates of drug abuse and addiction within the LGBTQ community is the social stigma and isolation that many within the community face from the mainstream population.

Although great strides have been made in the area of LGBTQ rights, we still have a long way to go.

  • While LGBTQ individuals are a lot freer to express themselves and live openly, at least in large metropolitan areas, there are still parts of the country where it is legal to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals in all aspects of life.
  • Even while some states are passing laws ensuring marriage equality, other states are considering, or have passed, laws making it legal for business owners, and even emergency medical personnel, to refuse service to members of the LGBTQ community on religious grounds.
  • While some states are banning conversion therapy (also known as ex-gay therapy) as a dangerous and damaging practice, other states are embracing and endorsing the practice whole-heartedly.
  • Rates of hate crimes and violence against the LGBTQ community are on the rise, and it’s not unusual for the victim’s sexual orientation or gender expression to be used as a justification for the violence enacted against him.

These are just a few examples of the hurdles that the LGBTQ community has to face on a daily basis. As a result, many within the community resort to drugs and/or alcohol to help them cope. Additionally, clubs and bars allow easy access to drugs and alcohol, and can often trigger heavy use in individuals looking for a safe haven or a sense of community.

Reversing the Trend

While members of the LGBTQ community would certainly benefit from drug and alcohol treatment programs, it’s going to take more than access to care and drug education programs to reverse this trend.

For one thing, drug treatment programs can address the addiction, but unless the counselors and staff are aware of the unique issues affecting the LGBTQ community, it won’t address the underlying causes of the addiction. The Center for American Progress outlined several steps that the Department of Health and Human Services could take to reduce the rates of drug abuse and addiction within the LGBTQ community.

One of those steps was for medical professionals, and addictions specialists to have ongoing cross-cultural training specific to the LGBTQ community, and to include gay and transgender cultural competence in the  National Standard on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services, which are designed to make health services more culturally and linguistically accessible to patients from diverse backgrounds.

Other recommendations include:

That the Department of Health and Human Services recruit students and professionals from the LGBTQ community in an effort to expand and diversify the national healthcare workforce, including the National Health Service corps, the U.S. Public Health Service, and programs administered by the Bureau of Health Professionals; and

That the Department of Health and Human service adopt a policy that prohibits it from discriminating against program participants, grant recipients, and potential participants and recipients, on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

However, healthcare is only one area in which we need to focus. We also need to focus stronger legislation which would protect members of the LGBTQ community from the stigma, discrimination, and isolation that they face on a daily basis. This includes:

Enacting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which would protect all LGBTQ citizens from employment discrimination in all 50 states and the District of Columbia;

Enacting the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act which would protect all LGBTQ citizens from housing discrimination in all 50 states, and the District of Columbia;

Enacting the Respect for Marriage Act which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and provide legal recognition for married same-sex couples, on the Federal level; and

Enacting the Health Equity and Accountability Act which calls for greater data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity through federal-supported health programs, and seeks to address many of the health disparities the LGBTQ community faces.

Additionally, we need to work to repeal right to discriminate laws in states which have enacted them, encourage more states to ban conversion therapy, and remove the ability for defendants to use a victim’s sexuality or gender expression as a defense in cases of violent crimes against LGBTQ individuals.











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