TW: Drug and Alcohol abuse, suicide, depression, self harm.
Addiction. It’s something that nobody likes to talk about. We often shy away from the subject as no matter your attitude towards addicts, it’s a controversial one. For some, it’s better to stay ignorant until it affects you directly – which it never would, right?
However, we all need to be educated on the topic of substance abuse. It’s something that could happen to any of us, especially within the LGBTQ+ community. Substance use disorders affect up to 30% of the LGBTQ+ population, compared to about 7% of the general population.
The LGBTQ+ community face many hurdles in treating addiction that straight sufferers do not. However, through the proper understanding of LGBTQ+ specific needs and the right level of care, substance abuse treatment can be successful.
This article is to raise awareness on the battles that LGBTQ+ people face which can lead to addiction and the barriers we must break down to receive the proper treatment. I am working alongside https://www.drugrehab.com/ in this essay to promote the work that they do for the community. They are an incredible resource for anyone struggling, or who knows anyone struggling with addiction. A great deal of the information and data presented in this article was found on Drug Rehab. They have truly educated me on the issue, make sure to check them out for more info.
Barriers we face as a community in the treatment of substance abuse
- We are reluctant to seek help.
Queer people endure judgment daily, that is passed onto them for not fitting into the familiar, hetero-normative box that society favors. The community faces discrimination every day. Many of us are condemned for holding our partners’ hand in public, for having alternative fashion sense, for looking or sounding ‘too gay.’
It’s hard sometimes then, to not assume that everyone is homophobic. Many queer people, therefore, are reluctant to ask for help when it comes to problems such as mental illness and addiction, in fear of being judged due to their sexual orientation. This delay in sufferers coming forward hinders the treatment process, and if they never ask for help at all, results can be detrimental.
In fact, a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report mentioned that stigma, intolerance and open discrimination were the most substantial barriers to substance abuse prevention and treatment among the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s a sad fact that many are just too afraid to ask for help
- Alcohol is the center of queer friendly spaces.
Decades ago, closeted queer folk would seek out gay bars to find fellow LGBTQ+ members. At the time, gay representation was non-existent in the media and elsewhere. Many people said that before entering a gay friendly club they didn’t realize that so many people like them even existed.
With that, alcohol and clubbing became central in the lives of queer people. It’s prevalence in gay social settings meant that it was hard to not partake in binge drinking and often recreational drug use.
Also, it’s fun! To lose your inhibitions for one night, to be unrepentantly yourself and not have to face any consequences of judgment or scrutiny, it’s exhilarating.
However, the gay scene has, unintentionally, romanticized binge drinking to a degree that is harmful for those of us vulnerable to addiction. If we want to be around people who we can relate to, it’s hard to stay sober.
The solution? We need more queer friendly, sober movements and spaces. Cafés, cinemas, restaurants, parks, bowling allies, clubs, literally anything. We need places that we won’t be ostracized for being neither queer nor sober.
If you’re in the London area, you should check out https://www.meetup.com/Queers-Without-Beers/. If you live elsewhere, try googling some other queer friendly, sober groups in your area. If there aren’t any, make one! If it’s something you’re passionate about you can totally make it happen.
- Family rejection and Homelessness:
Your family are supposed to be your biggest support. They’re supposed to be the people that you can rely on to take care of you, love you unconditionally, never judge you and accept you for who you are. Unfortunately, this is not how ‘coming out’ has gone down for many LGBTQ youth. They are often victims of verbal and physical abuse to the detriment of their own mental health. In severe cases, young queer people are thrown out on to the street and made homeless by their own parents and caretakers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+, highlighting how family rejection is a huge barrier for LGBTQ+ people.
The CDC report also states that LGBTQ+ young adults who experienced family rejection were three times more likely to use illegal drugs than those from supportive families.
People on the streets may use drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms to survive. However, substance dependence only exacerbates their problems and decreases their ability to attain permanent accommodation.
A study done by Michael’s House showed that:
- About 38 percent of the homeless abuse alcohol.
- About 26 percent abuse drugs other than alcohol.
- Alcohol abuse is more common among the older homeless population.
- Drug abuse is more common among the younger set
Homeless LGBT addicts will then find it more difficult than those with a home to seek help, either due to financial circumstances or from being unconvinced that change is possible for them. After being on the streets for a certain amount of time, many people feel like that’s how their situation will be forever. That is not the case.
Irish content creator, Riyadh Khalaf, recently took part in an excellent documentary on the BBC, Queer Britain, in which he discusses LGBTQ+ related issues in today’s society. He dedicated one episode on queer youth on the streets and it is worth a watch if you want further information and statistics on homelessness in the community – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDNA6Of7j7g
4. Lack of Education in Healthcare Professionals
LGBTQ patients’ needs as an addict are quite different to those of hetero patients. A lot of the time, an LGBTQ persons’ unhealthy relationship with drugs and alcohol is down to their struggles with their sexual and gender identities. Like I mentioned before, they’re used as a coping mechanism. Therefore, to properly treat a queer patient’s substance abuse disorder, the healthcare provider must have relevant education to assist LGBTQ patients specifically.
The result of the lack of education in most medical education is that many healthcare specialists feel uncomfortable or unqualified working with LGBT patients.
Many health care providers are simply not trained to serve gay or transgender patients, which negatively impacts quality of care. With this knowledge, LGBTQ addicts may be hesitant to seek help, worrying that they might be treated insensitively or with hostility.
I have listed some queer friendly resources below to assist in your battle for sobriety should you need it.
Some reasons why LGBTQ+ people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
The daily battle the queer community faces with discrimination and stigmatization can cause severe anxiety which can result in them abusing alcohol and drugs. This societal rejection can lead to low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. The feeling of marginalization can inevitably make queer youth feel like they need to find something to fill the void that this type of bigotry has created, in a lot of cases, they turn to drugs and alcohol.
Internalized homophobia has been defined as ‘the gay person’s direction of negative social attitudes toward the self, leading to a devaluation of the self and resultant internal conflicts and poor self-regard.’ (Meyer and Dean, 1998).
Or as “the self-hatred that occurs as a result of being a socially stigmatized person.” (Locke, 1998).
Simply put, it involves a certain level of self-hatred for being queer, it’s the opposite of pride. It’s how society has conditioned an LGBTQ+ member to feel ashamed for who they are, to believe that what they are doing is wrong.
Internalized homophobia may provoke substance abuse within the community. An individual might look at drugs and alcohol use as a means of hiding their true selves from the world (and themselves.) They can use it to pretend that they are straight even, to live in an imaginary world where they are wholly accepted. This leads to an increase in the potential for addiction. They may feel that they cannot function being sober, they might feel too vulnerable that way. Drugs and alcohol can boost confidence short term, in the long run, however, they can be devastating to the lives of queer individuals.
Stress and Self Medication
Ongoing discrimination and prejudices against queer people contributes to the LGBTQ+ community’s struggle with anxiety, stress and depression. To cope with these issues, LGBTQ+ people often resort to self-medicating with drugs, notably marijuana.
https://www.drugrehab.com/ cites this study on their website which reveals why gay and bisexual men specifically turn to marijuana as a means of self – medication. I recommend you look at the whole report as the results are truly eye opening.
This study published in the Journal of HIV/AIDS & Social Services in 2013 surveyed HIV-positive gay and bisexual male young adults about their marijuana use. The participants cited stress relief, social relaxation and forgetting about their diagnosis as reasons for their use of marijuana.
When asked to elaborate on why he used marijuana, a 24-year-old bisexual male participant said, “I’ve been smoking weed the whole time I’ve been having HIV and so that’s kind of like what I do to make the problem go down or just make me forget about what I was thinking.”
According to Stonewall research in 2014, 52% of young LGBT people report they have, at some point, self-harmed; a staggering 44% have considered suicide; and 42% have sought medical help for mental distress. Alcohol and drug abuse are often damaging forms of self-medication to deal with this underlying distress
In a world that tells them they are abnormal and wrong for being who they are and loving who they love, it is no wonder LGBTQ+ individuals often suffer anxiety and depression. Depression affects LGBT people at higher rates than the heterosexual population, and LGBT youths are more likely than heterosexual students to report elevated levels of drug use and feelings of depression.
Please reach out to one of the hotlines or resources below. There is help out there, as a sufferer of depression and anxiety, I can promise that (as cheesy and cliched as it sounds, it gets better)
Helping an LGBTQ+ person cope with addiction
According to a SAMHSA guide on LGBTQ+ substance abuse treatment, LGBTQ+ individuals respond better to treatment programs that are sensitive to their unique needs rather than conventional programs. They recommended some steps that must be in place in order for the individual to feel like their case is being handled with respect and accuracy. I’ve listed some of these steps below.
- Specialized treatment: Addiction specialists should be understanding of the unusual circumstances surrounding LGBTQ+ substance abuse and tailor their treatment to meet the person’s need. They need to be open to using unconventional techniques to fit the individual’s specific needs based on thorough research and evidence.
- More research: It is ideal to gather resources from different providers and specialists to tackle the various aspects of LGBTQ+ substance abuse.
- Educated staff: Addiction treatment programs should ensure that their staff is well educated in LGBTQ+ cultural needs and expectations. Staff members who are not familiar with LGBTQ+ issues may require sensitivity training.
- Respect: LGBTQ+ people may have faced discrimination, bullying or abuse as a result of their identities prior to entering treatment, so it is important that specialists and staff members treat them with respect and dignity. The patient should have total trust in their care provider.
- Education in patients: Staff should educate LGBTQ+ how to be healthy and safe when engaging in sexual activity. This is often not taught in schools as part of sex education.
- Remove barriers: Treatment providers and recovery services should work toward eliminating any barriers to substance abuse treatment for LGBTQ+ patients. These include, but are not limited to the barriers I have addressed above.
- Safe spaces without substances: Safe, alcohol and drug free spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals to share their experiences about substance use disorders and recovery are needed.
Drug and Alcohol Hotline Ireland: 1800 459 459
General Drug and Alcohol Abuse Hotline: 1-877-889-7414
Boys Town National Hotline: 1 (800) 448-3000
Covenant House Teen Hotline (NineLine): 1 (800) 999-9999
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1 (800) 662-HELP (4357)
Photo by Christian Sterk on Unsplash
Any opinions of mine expressed in this article are not necessarily that odrugrehab.com All views are my own.