The LGBTQ+ Community & Alcoholism

Does the LGBTQ Community Face a Higher Risk of Alcoholism?

People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) often face social stigma, discrimination, and other unfair treatment. This treatment usually isn’t experienced by their heterosexual counterparts. They also face a higher risk of harassment, violence, and hate crimes.

As a result of these and other difficulties, the LGBTQ community is significantly impacted by alcoholism and substance abuse. 

Up to 25 percent of the LGBTQ community has a moderate alcohol dependency. In comparison, five to ten percent of the general population has moderate alcohol dependency. 

Some subgroups of the LGBTQ community have even higher rates of alcohol abuse. It is reported that 25 percent of bisexual women are heavy drinkers.

What Are the Reasons for LGBTQ Alcoholism?

The LGBTQ community is significantly impacted by alcoholism and substance use for several reasons. One is due to the bigotry and discrimination that the community faces. This is especially true for the older generation of LGBTQ individuals or those who live in a less tolerant society.

Social stigma and discrimination due to a person’s sexual orientation can lead to mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. Affected individuals may experience distress, fear, and feelings of low self-esteem. Many people turn to binge drinking and illicit drugs to self-medicate, at least temporarily.

Alcohol and drug use as a method of self-medication often makes mental health illnesses worse. This can lead to more drinking and drug use, creating a downward spiral.

Many people belonging to the LGBTQ community do not have access to the same support systems as their heterosexual counterparts. Many members of the LGBTQ community are prevented from attending faith-based support systems. Or, they must hide their sexual orientation to participate. 

Many LGBTQ individuals also lose some support from their families and loved ones due to coming out. Many young members of the LGBTQ community become homeless after either running away from or being shunned by their families and loved ones.

Awareness of the problems the LGBTQ community face is growing. There are various LGBTQ-specific treatments to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ people.

Types of LGBTQ-Friendly Addiction Treatment Programs

Treatment facilities across the United States are becoming more sensitive to specific groups, including the LGBTQ community. Many facilities provide programs or services that cater to LGBTQ people. 

If you, a friend, or a loved one is experiencing alcoholism or drug abuse, understand that you are not alone. Achieving sobriety is a challenging journey that may require professional help and guidance.

Here are several LGBTQ-friendly addiction treatment programs that consider the additional social stigma and discrimination that many LGBTQs faces.

Rehab

An LGBTQ rehab center or treatment program is designed to help the LGBTQ community. These alcohol and drug rehab centers usually provide separate programs categorized by sexual orientation or gender identity. They are often staffed by medical professionals familiar with LGBTQ issues or are part of the community themselves.

LGBTQ rehab center staff have a shared understanding of the specific stressors that the community deals with due to their sexual identity or orientation. Staff members who are not part of the LGBTQ community are trained to understand their clients’ specific needs and issues.

An LGBTQ addiction center provides the typical range of treatments available to heterosexual patients, including medical detox and therapy.

However, extra support addresses specific issues like homophobia, transphobia, and familial rejection. 

Dual-Diagnosis Therapy

Many LGBTQ alcohol and drug treatment programs address other conditions in addition to the addictions themselves.

Patients may be addicted to more than one substance at a time or experience co-occurring mental health disorders. They may also have additional health issues, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.

As mental illness is so prevalent in the LGBTQ community, most specialty treatment centers offer dual diagnosis treatment. 

Group Therapy

LGBTQ-friendly alcohol and drug centers address people's unique needs and concerns identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. Treatment facilities provide safe, comfortable, and non-judgmental environments that help patients recover from alcohol and drug addiction.

Counseling Services for Loved Ones

Many LGBTQ-friendly rehab centers and services offer extra counseling for partners and families of patients. Traditional family therapy and marriage counseling often isn’t suitable for people in the LGBTQ community.

During therapy, LGBTQ-friendly counselors consider a patient’s sexual orientation and how it may affect relationships with loved ones.

How Do These Programs Work?

LGBTQ-friendly alcohol and drug centers address the unique needs and concerns of people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.Treatment facilities provide safe, comfortable, and non-judgmental environments which help patients recover from alcohol and drug addiction.

During treatment, the standard concerns of addiction are addressed. Any unique issues that many LGBTQ’s face are also treated.

Individualized addiction treatment is more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach. This is especially true for LGBTQ individuals who struggle with extra challenges during treatment.

While all treatment and rehab centers provide essential support programs to help patients in recovery, LGBTQ-friendly facilities usually offer more targeted treatments. 

Benefits of Specialized LGBTQ+ Rehab Centers

LGBTQ community members can complete alcohol and substance abuse treatment at conventional rehab centers. However, there are many advantages to receiving treatment designed to meet the specific needs of LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ-friendly facilities often use staff trained in handling issues that LGBTQ people face that traditional treatment centers may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. When attending a typical drug and alcohol rehab center, members of the LGBTQ community may feel isolated or ostracized with standard treatment. However, at LGBTQ centers, patients are more likely to feel a sense of belonging.

Counselors working at LGBTQ facilities often have a strong understanding of the coming out process, the stages of sexual identity, and other life experiences that many LGBTQ members face. 

Alcohol and drug rehab centers that cater to LGBTQ communities often have more complex goals than mainstream addiction facilities. While the same primary goal is to help individuals break their addictions, LGBTQ-friendly centers offer services that can help address identity issues that often link to a patient’s substance abuse. Some people may also need to explore their sexual identity to understand their alcohol or drug use.

Resources

Green, Kelly E, and Brian A Feinstein., Substance use in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: an update on empirical research and implications for treatment., Psychology of addictive behaviors : journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors vol. 26,2 (2012): 265-78, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3288601/

Hughes, Tonda L et al., The Influence of Gender and Sexual Orientation on Alcohol Use and Alcohol-Related Problems: Toward a Global Perspective.,  Alcohol research : current reviews vol. 38,1 (2016): 121-32, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4872607/

McCabe, Sean Esteban et al., Sexual orientation, substance use behaviors and substance dependence in the United States., Addiction (Abingdon, England) vol. 104,8 (2009): 1333-45, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2975030/

Substance Use and SUDs in LGBTQ* Populations, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/substance-use-suds-in-lgbtq-populations 

A Provider’s Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma12-4104.pdf 

Types of Treatment Programs, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 3 Jun. 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs

Updated on: October 15, 2020
Author
Ellie Swain
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
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