The LGBT Community And Recovery From Addiction

by | Dec 11, 2015 | Addiction, Treatment | 0 comments

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Addicts and alcoholics deserve a form of treatment that accounts for their specific circumstances. Members of the LGBT community are no exception. (Niyazz/Shutterstock)

Addicts and alcoholics deserve a form of treatment that accounts for their specific circumstances. Members of the LGBT community are no exception. (Niyazz/Shutterstock)

Every addict and alcoholic on the planet has their own reasons for using. Some do it because they simply enjoy the euphoric effects of drugs and alcohol. Others may have a genetic predisposition toward addictive behaviors, as we discussed in our article on the disease model of addiction. Then, there are those who are trying to numb themselves, to turn themselves off. This latter group is usually suffering from some sort of internal stress or outside influence that makes it just ever so much more difficult to make it through the day. Not surprisingly, these individuals comprise a large number of addicts and alcoholics within the LGBT community.

This is not to say that the LGBT community is comprised solely of addicts and alcoholics, although there might be many people out there who believe that this is the case. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals are subjected to many unfortunate stereotypes. Even with the 1980s long behind us, there are many who still picture such individuals spending their nights at a crowded dance club and partaking in club drugs such as ketamine. This may describe some, but the general addict within the LGBT community experiences addiction in the exact same fashion as anybody else.

That said, there are certain issues affecting the LGBT community that will often influence the best course of treatment for their recovery. While we certainly should not let biases of any kind affect our social interactions with anyone, treatment demands a unique situation for a unique individual. That is why those who seek treatment within our programs receive individualized care, so that they may enter recovery in a style which suits their own particular circumstances.

Below, we’ll discuss some of the unique situations that affect those within the LGBT community, as well as what can be done to treat the addicts and alcoholics who struggle with discrimination on a daily basis. First, however, we are going to talk a little bit about just how bad the situation is.

Addiction in the LGBT Community

Many assume that homosexual addicts live the “club kid” lifestyle of the 1980s, but this stereotype does not necessarily reflect the reality of the situation. (Dexterous Simpson/Shutterstock)

Many assume that homosexual addicts live the “club kid” lifestyle of the 1980s, but this stereotype does not necessarily reflect the reality of the situation. (Dexterous Simpson/Shutterstock)

We’ve previously discussed addiction demographics and statistics, and noted that addicts and alcoholics make up a shocking percentage of the general populace. Even if the problem is confined to just under a tenth of the population, those numbers are extreme when you consider just how many people there are on this planet. When you look at the LGBT community through this same lens, the problem becomes even more severe.

To be clear, it is very difficult to estimate the size of the LGBT community in the United States. Even when study participants are granted the right to retain anonymity, many will hesitate to answer honestly if they have not revealed the nature of their sexuality to others. To those who are “in the closet,” it becomes a closely guarded secret that must not be revealed. As a result, many surveys are published with the caveat that they contain only the results of their questionnaires, and that the percentage of respondents in their sample do not reflect upon the actual size of the LGBT population in America.

Even so, the numbers do appear to be relatively consistent. A 2011 Williams Institute study returned numbers of 3.5% combined for lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans. Approximately 0.3% of surveyed adults identified as transgender. This is directly in line with a Gallup report from earlier this year which indicates that the LGBT community comprises about 3.8% of the total population in the United States. This number may strike some people as low, but Gallup also notes that many have a tendency to overestimate the number of homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered individuals in the United States. Meanwhile, an article by The Economist notes that many studies do not account for the non-reporting habits of participants. This is possible, as a 2015 YouGov survey returned much higher results. A combined 4% of participants identified as gay or lesbian, while another 4% identified as bisexual. The study did not ask about transgendered participants, but 1% marked other and 2% preferred not to respond. This could place the size of the LGBT community at around 9-11% of the US population.

We don’t need to know who is right to know that substance abuse is a major issue facing the LGBT community in this country. According to the most recent data available from the United States Census Bureau, there are roughly 318.9 million people living in the United States of America today. Even if only 3.8% of those people identify as a sexual minority, that still places the total size of the LGBT community at approximately 12 million people. The 2011 poll by the Williams Institute estimated the total size of the LGBT community as 9 million, but this is due to a significant rise in the population since 2011 as well as what appears to be flawed arithmetic. Previous estimates by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have indicated that anywhere from 20-30% of the LGBT community is comprised of addicts and alcoholics, which would mean that there are anywhere from 2.4 million to 3.6 million people may fall under the category of sexual minorities who suffer from substance abuse disorders.

What Makes These Addictions Unique?

The stress, angst, and general repression resulting from the social pressure to remain “in the closet” can exacerbate the addictive tendencies of many LGBT substance abusers. (Serenethos/Shutterstock).

The stress, angst, and general repression resulting from the social pressure to remain “in the closet” can exacerbate the addictive tendencies of many LGBT substance abusers. (Serenethos/Shutterstock).

As we stated earlier, the manner in which members of the LGBT community experience addiction is hardly unique. What is unique, however, is that their addiction is often compounded by an unusual amount of stress, anxiety, and depression. This is because many members of the LGBT community are either a) hiding who they are or b) being socially chastised due to their identity.

We won’t get into whether or not sexual identity is a choice, because there’s little point in doing so. We could link study after study mentioning the brain chemistry and genetics of homosexuals, and most people would not change their stance on the issue. Those who want to believe that it is a choice will continue to do so, and the aforementioned studies will fail to do anything more than validate those who already believed in their conclusions. And in the end, it wouldn’t change the fact that it’s hard to be a member of any sexual minority in America.

That’s not to say that it isn’t getting easier. A 2013 Pew Research survey indicated that 92% of the LGBT community believed that they were more accepted than they were in prior years. That said, they also detailed the numerous ways in which they had still been chastised. About 58% of those surveyed had been chastised verbally, while 39% had suffered rejection from loved ones and 30% had been physically assaulted (or at least threatened). Many were even chastised publicly, with 29% encountering rejection in their place of religious worship, 23% encountering judgmental treatment from various establishments in the service industry, and 21% receiving unfair treatment at work. And while many members of the LGBT community may have expressed approval for the current direction in which society appears to be moving, an unspecified majority claimed that they were unhappy with their own lives.

The Center for American Progress claims that the above stressors are largely responsible for the increased rates of substance abuse within the LGBT community. Not only do many encounter familial, social, or religious discrimination, but many also inhabit states in which the law is not on their side when it comes to issues such as marriage or certain aspects of health care.

The above factors all combine into what is known as “minority stress,” and it is not uncommon for sufferers of this type of stress to find ways of rebelling against the society that caused it. Substance abuse is just one form of this rebellion, but other measures are often taken as well. According to Alexandra Katehakis, the Clinical Director and Founder of the Center for Healthy Sex, the culture of prejudice that often surrounds members of the LGBT community may even play a role in sex addiction.

This is because sexual minorities are often subjected to a form of repression that other minorities do not experience. If a person is female or African-American, they will likely encounter bigotry at several points in their lifetime; however, they never have to tell anyone that they are a member of a less privileged demographic. There is no fear of “coming out,” because everyone already knows who they are. The hypothetical closet is essentially a dilemma, a mandatory ultimatum in which members of the LGBT community must either decide to either suffer persecution and possibly physical violence or else keep living in a cage of conscious denial.

Katehakis also believes that sex addiction is caused by trauma (as is substance abuse in many cases, as we discussed in our article on addiction in the military). When a member of the LGBT community is rejected by family or severely beaten by hateful individuals, they will find some way of acting out. Basically, sexual minorities often become addicts and alcoholics because they are either fighting a battle against their own identity or trying to overcome some trauma caused by members of a society that still struggles to accept people for who they are. A society in which many people still think that homosexuality is an addiction that can be cured.

Pew’s survey participants may have thought in 2013 that the issue of homophobia in America was improving, but bear in mind that they hadn’t lived through the culture of transphobia that appears to be pervading society ever since Caitlyn Jenner gained the spotlight. And even Jenner has resorted to stereotyping. She quite recently referred to herself as “a man in a dress” in an interview with TIME, indicating that she doesn’t fully understand the people she represents. If a major current spokesperson for the LGBT community can’t offer them the type of understanding they need, how is the stress that causes so many of them to turn to addiction ever going to subside?

It’s Even Worse for Younger Addicts

Even when cyberbullying does not result in suicide, the emotional and mental effects on the victim can be absolutely devastating. (Photographee.eu/Shutterstock)

Even when cyberbullying does not result in suicide, the emotional and mental effects on the victim can be absolutely devastating. (Photographee.eu/Shutterstock)

Before continuing on to our discussion of LGBT treatment methods, we should briefly mention that the above problems are often much, much worse for younger individuals. A 2013 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) noted that for every heterosexual victim of cyberbullying, there are three victims who identify with the LGBT community. These victims account for roughly 42% of all LGBT youth. This bullying tends to cause significant drop-offs in the grades and general self-worth of the victims, sometimes even affecting their mental health. In many grave cases, the results have even been suicide.

Some believe that the problem has been overblown, as it has been highly publicized over the past few years. But nothing could be further from the truth. A 2011 Associated Press-MTV poll indicated that roughly 54% of the general youth population encounter discriminatory language targeted toward young homosexuals and do not see its offensive potential. And since the aforementioned GLSEN poll noted that LGBT youth tend to spend more time online per day than other young individuals, the result is that many adolescent members of the LGBT community are frequently coming into contact with hurtful language with no one to back them up.

The problem is even worse at school. Another 2011 GLSEN poll indicates that as many as 81.9% of LGBT students are harassed verbally, while 38.3% are harassed physically. An approximate 18.3% of respondents reported that they were actually assaulted on school premises. The result was that 63.5% felt that their sexual orientation made school an unsafe place, and 31.8% had stayed home for at least one day for the sake of their own safety.

Considering that many students are already inclined to begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol, it should not have to be explained that the atmosphere of judgmental hatred encountered by many youths in the LGBT community will inevitably serve to enhance their predisposition toward addictive behaviors. All it takes is one drink, one puff, one needle, and they learn that the fear they experience on a daily basis can be superficially masked through substance abuse. And just like that, the youths who have not committed suicide as a result of their bullying will begin a long and painful journey toward death at the hands of drugs and alcohol.

How LGBT Treatment Differs

Here at Amethyst, we do everything in our power to accommodate patients from all walks of life. (nito/Shutterstock)

Here at Amethyst, we do everything in our power to accommodate patients from all walks of life. (nito/Shutterstock)

According to a 2010 SAMHSA study, there aren’t too many options for members of the LGBT community who wish to enter treatment at a facility that understands their particular brand of hardships. The survey covered 13,688 treatment facilities across the nation, and the unfortunate discovery was that only 6% of them offered individualized treatment plans to homosexual patients. The lack of individualized care was especially prevalent among state-run facilities, which unfortunately isn’t too surprising. As we have said before, smaller private treatment centers are simply able to offer a level of care that overworked and underpaid (not to mention frequently unlicensed) counselors at federally subsidized facilities cannot.

This is not to say that the counselors at such facilities do not mean well—anyone who dedicates their life and career to the treatment of addicts and alcoholics is certainly someone who has their heart in the right place. But state-run facilities often lack the resources necessary to give each client the full continuum of care required in order to make a real attempt at long-lasting recovery. A large part of the problem is that many such facilities lack the personnel required to form a dedicated treatment team that can assess each client’s individual case and make necessary adjustments in order to provide the specific form of care they need. The result is that every patient at such facilities may receive a cookie-cutter treatment plan that works better for some than for others. And this “one size fits all” method of treatment tends to ignore the specific issues faced by members of the LGBT community.

At Amethyst Recovery, our standard of individualized care helps prevent the lackluster attempts at recovery provided by treatment centers who are unable to accommodate those with unique circumstances. Not only do we offer excellent counseling that will enable our patients to express the problems that have given them the most trouble throughout their addictions, but we also offer other services that may be of use to any LGBT patients who come through our doors.

For instance, the support we provide families through support groups such as our parent alumni program and A Mother’s Hope (our online group) will help parents learn more about how to accept the addicts and alcoholics in their lives. While we cannot promise that this will lead to the healing that is necessary for members of the LGBT community who have been rejected by their families, there are certainly cases in which addicts have found themselves emerging from treatment to develop closer relationships with their families than they had ever maintained prior to recovery. This outcome may not play out for every LGBT patient who receives care at our center, but we certainly do our best to promote a sense of mutual understanding between addicts and their families. It is important to remember that addiction is a family disease, and the family often needs just as much recovery as the addict if they are ever to find contentment in their lives. As such, it isn’t surprising that many families will develop a very new outlook on life while one of their loved ones is in treatment.

Another important service that we offer is EMDR trauma therapy. Those who have been the victims of violent crimes as a result of their lifestyle will be able to work through the pain while also fighting the same inner demons that spur their addictions.

Finally, we do our best at Amethyst to teach our patients a number of life skills that help them learn how to deal with internal stress in a healthy way. This is especially true of patients who spend time in our sober living facilities, as they will be given the opportunity to slowly adjust to life in the outside world while reaping the benefits of inhabiting a small community of like-minded addicts and alcoholics who can help keep them happy and accountable. But we can also teach them a bit about mental nutrition and how to fill the internal void that so often leads to addiction. As they learn healthy ways of keeping themselves happy, these patients will begin to realize that they much prefer the real world of sobriety to the illusory world of drugs and alcohol.

There is no doubt that members of the LGBT community are up against many unfortunate circumstances every day. Our job is to teach them that they do not have to resort to drugs and alcohol in order to overcome these circumstances. Through the power of self-confidence and self-worth discovered through sobriety, our patients never have to worry about staying in the closet and pretending to be something they’re not. They can simply be present in the world, remaining exactly as they are, and everyone else can get used to it.

So if you or someone you know is fighting a dual battle against both substance abuse and the minority stress experienced by those who identify with the LGBT community, please contact us today. We’ll do our best to get you through our doors as soon as possible. In the meantime, remember that the world is only a beautiful place due to the rainbow spectrum of personalities who populate this earth. You are a part of that spectrum, and you should never feel ashamed for that.

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