Every June marks Pride Month, a time for the LGBTQ+ community and their allies to come together to celebrate the progress made and raise awareness for the problems that still exist. Public support and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals continue growing year after year.
Pride Month serves as a springboard for conversations about struggles the LGBTQ+ community still faces. It recognizes the important advancements made but also begs the question: what challenges do LGBTQ+ individuals still face? The bright, joyful festivities are overshadowed by the darker aspects that need to be addressed.
One of the most pressing issues is the disproportionate rates of alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and mental health issues. There’s an urgent need for understanding and compassionate care from treatment facilities that support the LGBTQ+ community. Pride Month is a great time to consider these ongoing needs and how facilities across the country can rise to meet them.
Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ+ Community
Drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness do not discriminate. There is no one picture of what someone who struggles with substances or mental health “looks like.” These conditions can affect anyone no matter their gender, age, race, beliefs, employment, socioeconomic status, and more.
At the same time, certain sections of the population are more likely to develop mental health or substance problems than others. Individuals in the LGBTQ+ community are one of these groups. Statistics and research show that LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to abuse substances or develop mental illness than their allies.
Substance abuse rates are higher across the board for sexual minority groups compared to the general population. 9.6% of LGBTQ+ adults reported past-year opioid use, much higher than the past-year opioid use among 3.8% of all U.S. adults. 12.4% of adults in the LGBTQ+ community have an alcohol use disorder compared to 10.1% of all adults.
LGBTQ+ individuals also report higher rates of marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine use. Cocaine use among these individuals has been on the rise since 2016, an alarming trend to note. Methamphetamine use has risen dramatically over the last few years, too, with rates more than doubling compared to 2017.
Along with higher rates of substance abuse, LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to have co-occurring psychiatric disorders. They report more frequent depression, anxiety, and general mental distress than the general population. So despite the progress made in the last decade, there’s still work to do when it comes to substance use and mental health.
What Causes High Rates of Substance Abuse?
Why are LGBTQ+ individuals more likely to use substances and experience mental health struggles? Even though tolerance and acceptance are on the rise, there are still plenty of areas where people are less accepting. Pride Month is a helpful step but there is more ground to cover. What are some of the things that lead to higher rates of substance abuse for LGBTQ+ people?
The LGBTQ+ population is usually associated with a fun and vibrant nightlife community. Gay bars are a place where people feel safe to express themselves however they feel comfortable, free from judgment. They provide a space for serenity amidst a still-intolerant world.
Although it’s great to have a place to feel safe, the fact that these places are often bars means that people are drinking. The thought of going to a bar sober is laughable to many so the people feel the need to drink while there. When a bar is one of the few places some LGBTQ+ people feel safe, the higher rates of drinking and drug use aren’t as surprising.
Family rejection is an all too common experience for LGBTQ+ individuals. Many delay coming out to avoid judgment or ostracization from their families. There are countless stories of LGBTQ+ youth and adults alike who lose contact with their families over their sexuality or gender identity. This rejection has a serious impact on self-worth and overall mental health.
People can build a chosen family but as a study on LGBTQ+ youth and family acceptance explains, “peer and other community support cannot replace the desired parental reaction.” When that biological need for love and support from the family is not met, it increases the likelihood of substance abuse and other detrimental mental health conditions.
Many people who struggle with depression, anxiety, or even loneliness and low self-esteem turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. These substances provide some relief from the immense weight of their mental health. Though drinking or using drugs seems like it offers relief, in reality, it only makes these negative symptoms worse.
Self-medicating is a dangerous practice that may eventually develop into a substance or alcohol use disorder. Substance abuse exacerbates mental health symptoms and once an AUD or SUD develops it adds to the problem. Treatment is usually necessary once use reaches this point.
Barriers to Treatment for LGBTQ+ Individuals
People are far more likely to achieve and maintain recovery when they have access to comprehensive addiction treatment services. But in 2019, only 13.6% of the 2.6 million LGBTQ+ adults who needed treatment services for a substance use disorder received them. That means 2.2 million individuals were left to manage their substance use or try to stop using drugs and alcohol on their own.
LBGTQ+ individuals are not only at a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder. They’re also less likely to receive the treatment services they need. This contradiction is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Removing barriers to treatment for LGBTQ+ individuals is a life-saving effort. How can treatment facilities go about eliminating roadblocks between their vital services and the LGBTQ+ community?
Providing Effective Treatment Services
Effective treatment services for LGBTQ+ individuals need to address the unique obstacles they face. Familial rejection and trauma are not unique to any one part of the population but the LGBTQ+ community does experience these things more than others. Recognizing the fearful state that many exist in is the first step to providing effective, understanding care.
Many LBGTQ+ individuals worry that stigma in society will follow them into the treatment environment. They face enough judgment as is and their substance abuse adds to that stigma and shame. No person should hesitate to seek treatment because of who they are, though. Treatment facilities that work with the LGBTQ+ community must recognize and respect their particular fears to provide the most effective treatment possible.
Some of the best forms of treatment to use when working with LGBTQ+ individuals include:
LGBTQ+ Care at Peace Valley Recovery
Peace Valley Recovery recognizes the difficult path that people in the LGBTQ+ community have walked through up to this point. You’ve dealt with a heavy hand that not many people understand from personal experience. We do know how to provide understanding care with unconditional acceptance and support from our kind and caring staff, though.
If you’re looking for a treatment facility that provides compassionate care in a non-judgmental environment, Peace Valley is here to help. We work with each person who attends our facility to create an individualized path to recovery respecting your unique needs. Reach out to us today to learn more about the programs we offer and find out whether we’re the right fit for you.