Drug Addiction in the LGBT Community

Posted on November 1st, 2011
Posted in Articles

People often use drugs and alcohol to cope with stress or emotional pain, escape from problems, or gain acceptance. Although anyone can become addicted, certain people are at greater risk, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals.

What makes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals particularly vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction?

  • Emotional challenges, such as rejection and isolation, surrounding the process of coming out
  • Fears of physical violence, prejudice and discrimination
  • Strong sense of shame, particularly among those LGBT individuals who lack family support
  • Low self-esteem from feeling “different” or not being accepted by friends and family
  • Pressure to fit into the LGBT party scene or subculture
  • High rates of depression and anxiety, often prompted by the stigma of being gay
  • Past emotional trauma, often in the form of physical, sexual or verbal abuse
  • Bullying and harassment by peers, especially during adolescence

Due to these unique pressures and challenges, the LGBT community suffers from a higher incidence of substance abuse than the heterosexual population. Some of the drugs most commonly abused by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals are cocaine, ecstasy, GHB, meth, marijuana and alcohol. Studies have shown that:

  • An estimated 55 percent of gay men struggle with drug addiction.
  • LGBT youth are three times more likely than their heterosexual peers to become addicted to drugs.
  • LGBT individuals are less likely to seek help for addiction. This means they are more likely to be exposed to the health complications of prolonged drug abuse and to continue abusing drugs later in life.
  • Suicide rates among LGBT teenagers are significantly higher than their heterosexual peers.

Finding LGBT Drug Rehab Centers

Why are LGBT individuals reluctant to get treatment for addiction? Some have been treated by health care providers who were intolerant or unsupportive, while others may be afraid of disclosing their sexual orientation.

The most effective drug rehabs for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals are gay-friendly programs that offer specialized support. The ideal program is culturally sensitive, employs LGBT-sensitive staff, honors a culture of diversity, and has contacts with LGBT self-help support group and related resources. By participating in a LGBT-friendly drug rehab program, patients are more likely to feel understood, supported and accepted and are less likely to leave treatment early.

While it can be a challenge to find specialized gay drug rehab programs, there are a number of centers that are gay-friendly. These centers incorporate all of the traditional drug rehab components, such as counseling, life skills training, relapse prevention planning and aftercare, but with an emphasis on personal identity, family dynamics, a social support network and the internal turmoil that leads to substance abuse.

Since many LGBT individuals struggle with depression, anxiety and other addictions, dual diagnosis treatment is an important part of the recovery process. Patients with issues related to HIV/AIDS may need a facility that provides medication management and additional therapeutic support.

In general, metropolitan areas have LGBT-specific groups and resources and a community that supports diversity. Southern California is home to a number of LGBT-friendly drug rehab programs, in some of the most desirable and luxurious settings in the country.

When LGBT individuals feel safe and supported, sometimes for the first time in their lives, they can make significant strides during treatment. With the right kind of care, they can embrace who they are and leave rehab with a renewed sense of self-worth and purpose.

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