Individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) have numerous challenges to resolve as they choose better health. From genetics to environmental factors, many variables define the building blocks of their disorders. However, members of the LGBTQIA2s+ community (which we’ll collectively refer to in this article as LGBTQ) often have additional circumstances that contribute to compulsive drug and alcohol misuse.
Why LGBTQ History Matters for Treating Addiction
Here’s an important point to keep in mind: as recently as 1968, the American Psychiatric Association defined homosexuality as “a ‘sexual deviation,’” and looked upon it as something to be “‘cured’ and returned to a heteronormative state.” And it wasn’t until 1990 that the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases.
But even that proclamation couldn’t erase decades of personal and professional criminalization, discrimination, harassment, and violence upon people in the LGBTQ community. This timeline from CNN notes that it wasn’t until 2003 that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the “homosexual conduct law, which decriminalizes same-sex sexual conduct.”
Unfortunately, members of the LGBTQ community have also dealt with considerable healthcare disparities. Generations of medical practitioners, psychiatrists, and other healthcare professionals operated with severe prejudice against LGBTQ patients who suffered from various conditions. Some individuals were denied treatment altogether. And many still are.
5 Struggles in the LGBTQ Community That Lead to Addiction
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that “while no one factor can predict if a person will become addicted,” the more risk factors someone has, the greater the chance that taking drugs and using alcohol may lead to addiction. The primary factors we all share include:
- Biology. Approximately 50 percent of a person’s dependency risk is genetic. “Gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other mental disorders may also influence risk for substance use and addiction,” according to the NIDA.
- Development. “Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier that drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to addiction,” the NIDA states. Teens, in particular, are more likely to engage in risky behaviors because their brains are still developing in areas that “control decision-making, judgment, and self-control.”
- Environment. The NIDA also notes that for people of any age, “factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can greatly affect a person’s likelihood of drug use and addiction.” Adverse childhood experiences, such as witnessing domestic abuse, a family member in the justice system, and others might also present risk.
However, some members of the LGBTQ community have additional challenges leading to addiction, such as the following.
- Family rejection. Some LGBTQ individuals may face rejection and estrangement from their families when they come out. This loss of support creates a sense of isolation and emotional distress, making people more susceptible to addiction.
- Mental health issues. According to the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health, individuals may be at a higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges like anxiety, body dysmorphia, depression, and suicidal ideation, which can be exacerbated by societal pressures and discrimination. These mental health issues can drive individuals toward substance use as a form of self-medication.
- Discrimination and stigma. Discrimination and social stigma based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity often cause feelings of isolation, shame, and low self-esteem. These negative experiences can contribute to using substances as a coping mechanism.
- Minority stress. Minority stress is a chronic condition resulting from being a member of a marginalized group. It can manifest as anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, which may increase the likelihood of turning to substance use as a way to cope.
- Peer influences. While LGBTQ communities offer tremendous connection and a sense of belonging, especially as a chosen family, they can also expose individuals to social environments where substance use is prevalent. Peer pressure and the normalization of substance use can increase the risk of addiction.
It’s important to recognize that addiction is a complex issue influenced by a combination of factors. LGBTQ individuals, like anyone else, can benefit from access to appropriate mental health support, addiction treatment, and community resources to address these struggles and reduce the risk of addiction. Supportive, inclusive, and non-discriminatory environments play a crucial role in preventing substance abuse and promoting the well-being of all members of the LGBTQ community.
At Fair Oaks, We See You
The board-certified professionals at our Sacramento drug and alcohol rehabilitation center meet each client where they are in the moment with the utmost compassion and whole-person care. Our core philosophy is to honor the human dignity of every person we work with, and we feel privileged to support a process of successful change with our safe space of inclusion. Our professionals acknowledge collective challenges, but also strive to embrace each individual’s background and provide customized solutions for their future health. Ask a member of our admissions team how we can help you.