By Susan Finley, Ed.D., NCC
“We should indeed keep calm in the face of difference, and live our lives in a state of inclusion and wonder at the diversity of humanity.”–George Takei
Substance use disorders do not discriminate based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion. In fact, any individual can develop and suffer from a substance use disorder at some point in their lifetime. However, certain demographics or “at-risk” populations are more susceptible to be personally affected by alcohol and substance use disorders. These include individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ).
There is a higher prevalence of LGBTQ persons struggling with addiction compared to the general population. An estimated 20-30% of LGBTQ people abuse substances, compared to about 9% of the general population and 25% of LGBTQ people abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population. In fact, those who identify as members of the LGBTQ community are 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, substance use disorder and suicidal ideation at some point in their lives. Bisexual and questioning individuals are at highest risk (NAMI).
It is imperative that mental health professionals, educators, and society at large recognize the added environmental and psychological stressors apparent in the LGBTQ community. Formerly referred to as “minority stress,” LGBTQ persons have additional fears and stressors not apparent in the straight or “majority” population. Examples may include:
- the added stress of coming out
- being discriminated against for sexual orientation and gender identities
- prejudice and other biases.
- denial of civil and human rights
The research supports these findings as problematic. That is why concentrated efforts are being made to effectively treat and identify underlying causes of higher levels of substance use disorders in LGBTQ persons. Every day, more programs have been enacted and continue to evolve to best suit the unique needs of LGBTQ persons. The connection between sexuality and increased risk for addiction is studied closely by organizations and non-profits in the efforts to address challenges and implications when providing effective mental health care. Some helpful resources for LGBTQ persons include:
The Center for American Progress offers a variety of resources, including a report called Why the Gay and Transgender Population Experiences Higher Rates of Substance Use.
The GLBT National Help Center provides multiple resources and access to a hotline and a youth chat line.
The Trevor Project is a multimedia support network for LGBTQ youth providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
It is difficult for many individuals to seek and receive help for mental health conditions, but particularly difficult when there is the added fear of being ridiculed or rejected (as evidenced in previous cases of experiencing social exclusion). LGBTQ centers are an excellent place to find referrals and suggestions for LGBTQ-friendly healthcare providers. Most importantly, addressing stigma and lessening prejudice against at-risk populations will make the act of seeking and obtaining help more likely.
Susan Finley, Ed.D., NCC is an educator, published researcher, and social media consultant for therapists. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), Board Certified-TeleMental Health Provider (BC-TMH), and Suicide Prevention Instructor (QPR) under the National Board for Certified Counselors.
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