The LGBTQ Community and Substance Abuse

by | Last updated Aug 24, 2023 | Published on Jun 11, 2020 | Specialized | 0 comments

lgtbq treatment for substance abuse

As many people know, addiction doesn’t discriminate; however, some groups are more likely to be affected than others. The LGBTQ+ community is one of these groups, and drug abuse and addiction among these individuals is a huge problem. 

There are many reasons why the LGBTQ+ community may be more at risk for substance abuse than the general population, including rejection and discrimination. Understanding how sexual orientation affects drug abuse and alcohol abuse rates is important to the addiction recovery industry. With addiction becoming such a huge burden to society, we must start to explore what we can do to help.

The good news is that there are already plenty of addiction resources available. Whether you, a friend, or family member are part of this community, you can easily find addiction resources in your area. 

Find some of the answers you’re looking for in this comprehensive guide. We’ll explore topics like the prevalence of substance abuse in the queer community and the types of substance abuse treatment that can help. This guide is packed with useful information that can help you figure out how to deal with addiction.

If you have any further questions after taking a look at this guide, Amethyst Recovery Center can help. Whether you’re looking to pursue addiction treatment in your city or in Port St. Lucie, we can guide you in the right direction.

LGBT Substance Abuse Statistics

Recent studies have found that 20 to 30% of the LGBTQ+ population abuses some sort of substance. This is substantially higher than the 9% of the general population who struggles with substance abuse.

LGBTQ+ drug abuse rates are at an all-time high. To further illustrate the severity of the problem, let’s take a look at some other rates of substance abuse among gay, bisexual, and transgender people:

  • 20.5% of LGBTQ+ adults smoke cigarettes, compared with 15.3% heterosexual/straight adults.
  • 25% of LGBTQ+ adults have an alcohol dependency, compared with 5 to 10 percent of the general population

Studies also show that homosexual men are more likely to abuse drugs than others in this community. In comparison to heterosexual men, homosexual men are:

  • 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana
  • 12.2 times more likely to use amphetamines
  • 9.5 times more likely to abuse heroin

From these studies, it’s clear that the LGBTQ+ community abuses drugs and alcohol more often than the general population. Since these studies have been brought to light, more research has gone into this area and field. Many researchers are now starting to look at the correlation between substance abuse and being a sexual minority.

With more data collected in this area, we are now getting a bigger and better picture. We are learning more about addiction rates and statistics in the LGBTQ+ community every day. The more we know, the more we can make a difference.

Common Reasons for Drug Abuse in the LGBTQ + Community

Many reasons contribute to the higher addiction rates in this community. Drug or alcohol use can:

  • Help people deal with and temporarily relieve stresses involved with battling stigma and prejudice on a daily basis
  • Be difficult to overcome due to the lack of health care programs and services for this community
  • Be an alternative for lack of familial support or even rejection from family and friends
  • Feel like a treatment for co-occurring disorders, which is a mental health disorder coexisting with a substance use disorder
  • Be considered as a “norm” in clubs, bars, and spaces that cater to sexual minorities

Coming out to your family can be difficult. It can be stressful; however, staying in the closet and hiding your true identity can be equally as damaging to your mental health. Many people in the LGBTQ+ community have difficulties dealing with the issues that are relevant to this community. They may feel like they have nowhere else to turn.

A Look at the Prevalence of Co-Occurring Disorders

One of the main reasons why LGBT addiction is so prevalent is because many sexual minorities struggle with mental health disorders. These may be brought on by a lack of support or having to be in high-stress situations. Adults of a sexual minority often struggle with untreated mental illnesses. They may be afraid to seek help due to their sexual orientation.

There are many reasons why mental illnesses are more prevalent in this community. LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to feel isolated. They may feel suicidal and depressed or may even loathe themselves. Their poor perception of self will cause them to be three times more likely to experience a debilitating anxiety disorder or major depression.

Mental health disorders can be separated into two categories: any mental illness (AMI) and serious mental illness (SMI). The same study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that:

  • 2.5 million LGBT adults struggled with AMI excluding SMI
  • 1.4 million LGBT adults struggle with SMI

This corresponds to 24.3% and 13.1% of the LGBTQ+ population, respectively. That’s a huge chunk of the population.

In comparison to heterosexual individuals, LGBTQ+ individuals may be less likely to seek treatment as well. They are more likely to hide from their problems in fear of outing themselves.

It’s important to note that there also aren’t many government resources available in this area of addiction.

How Do Mental Health Illnesses and Substance Use Disorders Play Off  One Another?

Someone with co-occurring disorders has both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. This is also known as a dual diagnosis. Those who receive a dual diagnosis will need special addiction treatment.

Dual diagnosis treatment must take into consideration the presence of both disorders. Recovering addicts with co-occurring disorders will need special treatment that should normalize chemical levels within the body and mind. It also must not aggravate either disorder.

When you struggle with an addiction or a mental health disorder, one thing stays the same: Neurochemical levels in the brain will go haywire. This causes the individual to feel a wide variety of symptoms that magnify other disorders.

For example, when you struggle with a mental health disorder, you might have low dopamine or serotonin levels. This may cause you to feel depressed, sluggish, or tired. Feeling like this can motivate you to turn to drugs, which can artificially inflate dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain. This allows you to feel like yourself again.

However, once the drugs start to leave your system, your neurochemical levels will start to deplete once more. This can cause you to feel worse than before.

It’s important to note that the opposite could also be true. You could start off with an addiction, and the constantly fluctuating neurochemical levels in your brain can lead to the development of mental illness. Alcohol and drug addiction can completely change your brain chemistry. As a result, regular substance abuse will lead to consistently low neurochemical levels.

Drug or alcohol use can also interfere with your body’s ability to manage and regulate neurochemical production. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to stop.

Critical Challenges Faced by the LGBTQ+ Community

The LGBTQ+ community faces many challenges, which can add on to their stress. These prevent people of a sexual minority from being who they are.

Some of these critical challenges include but are not limited to:

  • Alienation from certain programs
  • Cultural competency
  • Discrimination in healthcare
  • Discrimination in housing
  • Employment discrimination
  • Minority stress
  • Relationship recognition discrimination

Understanding the different challenges sexual minorities face can help the general population better understand how to help them. Those who don’t fall in this group often overlook these challenges and don’t understand the difficulty of these situations. They may also not understand how these challenges can affect mental health and stress levels.

Alienation from Certain Programs

Once LGBTQ+ individuals come out, they often face discrimination and prejudice. They may become alienated from certain groups or programs with which they were previously well-acquainted. It’s not unusual for individuals to be alienated from their religious organizations as well.

Alienation from a religious community, rejection from loved ones, and exclusion from family and friends can lead to low self-esteem and a lack of self-acceptance. All of these factors can contribute to growing stress and self-loathing. Many LGBTQ+ individuals require therapy and counseling to learn how to love themselves again.

Cultural Competency

One of the main reasons why gay and transgender individuals resist seeking help is due to the structure of the U.S. health care system. They’re aware of the fact that they could meet ignorant health care professionals who are unaware of their specific needs. These workers might even be hostile towards them if they disagree with their sexual orientation.

For example, some recovery meetings do not provide any outward indication that they are willing to include sexual minorities. As a result, many LGBTQ+ individuals may feel as if they don’t have as much access to getting sober as a heterosexual/cisgender person.

Due to culture and competency, many gay or transgender individuals feel uncomfortable enrolling in any type of program. When they don’t participate in addiction treatment, they don’t end up addressing the root causes of their addiction.

Discrimination in Healthcare

Another huge issue is the lack of access to affordable and culturally competent health care. Homosexual, bisexual, and transgender adults are roughly twice as likely to be without any type of health insurance coverage. Many don’t have any type of private insurance, either.

Many employers don’t provide health insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Also, some health insurance companies that do offer this type of benefit will charge a higher premium. Health care plans also might not cover the type of addiction treatment that LGBTQ+ individuals need.

As mentioned previously, many health care professionals are not trained to serve LGBTQ+ patients. This negatively impacts their quality of care. Bisexual and transgender health care programs are often difficult to find and even unavailable in some cases. 

Discrimination in Housing

People who are denied stable and affordable housing often have a more difficult time maintaining employment, providing a secure and safe family environment, and accessing health care. Unfortunately, many people in the LGBTQ+ community experience some form of discrimination and housing. The discrimination either comes from their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

The numbers don’t lie: 50% of gay individuals and 70% of transgender individuals report facing housing discrimination.

Employment Discrimination

While sexual orientation is technically a protected class, it’s legal for gay and transgender individuals to be denied employment in 29 states. They can also be fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This adds to their overall stress.

As many as 43% of gay people and 90% of transgender people may experience discrimination or harassment.

Workplace discrimination is a huge threat that can lead to job instability and put someone in an unfavorable position. Someone in this situation is constantly worried about their income and how it will affect their family.

Minority Stress

Being a minority comes with a great deal of stress that usually stems from general social prejudice. It can also come with discriminatory policies and laws. Minority stress is very real. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

There are many anti-gay and anti-transgender social prejudices that can be expressed in obvious and exaggerated ways. Other times, they’re expressed more subtly. For example, a receptionist may ask a gay couple who the “real” parent is. They may mean no harm. In fact, they may not even realize that they were being discriminatory.

Drugs Commonly Abused By the LGBTQ+ Community

Much like with every other group are demographic, the LGBTQ+ community are just as likely to abuse every type of drug. Those who identify as a sexual minority may abuse anything from depressants like alcohol and stimulants like cocaine, to prescription drugs like opioids and anti-anxiety medications.

The most commonly abused drugs in the LGBTQ+ community will depend on several factors. Some of the sociocultural factors involved include:

  • Affiliation with gay culture
  • Age
  • Bisexuality
  • Gender
  • HIV status
  • Sexual minority stress and outness

Depending on these factors, adults who identify as a sexual minority may be more at risk of substance abuse. They may also be more at risk of developing a mental health disorder, and, thus, a co-occurring addiction.

Understanding how these factors influence and affect an LGBTQ+ individual is key. These will also help addiction treatment staff figure out what type program will be the most effective.

Affiliation with Gay Culture

Another interesting study has shown that affiliation with gay culture may be linked to elevated substance use. This is because gay bars are one of the main social outlets in the LGBTQ+ community. Many of those looking to belong will often rely on drugs and alcohol when placed in these settings.

Many individuals heavily involved in the LGBTQ+ community will also frequent house parties and circuits. Drugs and alcohol are often readily and easily available in these places.

Extremely low affiliation with gay culture can also increase heavy drinking and illicit drug use. This is because these individuals don’t receive the social and emotional support they need. Substance abuse becomes one of their main outlets for venting their frustrations.

Studies have shown that those who frequent bars, clubs, and lounges are more likely to engage in drug use. People with a higher number of sexual partners are more likely to use drugs as well. Research also shows that MDMA use is usually linked with a higher level of gay community affiliation.


Age is generally considered to be a protective factor against substance abuse. Alcohol abuse rates tend to decrease with age, and this appears to be the case in the LGBTQ+ community as well.

Similar to heterosexual adults, young homosexual adults tend to exhibit heavier alcohol use and drug use. Among the LGBTQ+ community, homosexual women abuse alcohol more often than other sexual minorities. They are more likely to:

  • Drink more frequently
  • Drink more heavily per occasion
  • Binge drink

In this demographic, age doesn’t seem to play a protective role against substance abuse. Both young lesbian and bisexual women are just as likely to continue alcohol abuse or drug abuse even as they age. 


Sexual orientation may also come into play. Recent research indicates that bisexuality appears to have a stronger correlation and link to substance abuse. Those who identify as bisexual are more likely to report drug or alcohol use, no matter their gender.

This could be because those who are bisexual are more likely to face discrimination. Not only do these individuals face discrimination from the general population, they also face it from the homosexual community. Studies have also shown that bisexual individuals receive less social support.


One’s gender can also affect the substances they choose to abuse. Studies have shown that homosexual and bisexual women are usually more likely to abuse alcohol and get addicted to it then homosexual or bisexual men. On the other hand, bisexual and homosexual men are more likely to abuse drugs.

HIV Status

Substance use is considered to lead to an increased risk for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is a blood-borne disease, so people who share needles are more likely to contract.

With that said, it has also been suggested that one’s HIV status may influence substance use patterns. Those who are HIV positive are more likely to misuse multiple drugs at once, like:

  • Crystal methamphetamine
  • Ecstasy
  • GHB
  • Cocaine
  • Ketamine

HIV positive individuals are more likely to engage in substance abuse because they also tend to struggle with mental health disorders. They often feel isolated, depressed, anxious, shameful, or guilty.

Sexual Minority Stress and Outness

The social pressures of being a sexual minority can lead to many issues. Those who identify as a sexual minority may be ostracized from their peers, family, and colleagues once they come out.

Studies have shown that those who are out to more than half of their social network will be more likely to use drugs or alcohol. Those who disclose their sexual orientation to their family members are also more likely to use club drugs. Whether a person has support from family and friends will make a huge difference.

Effective Drug Treatment Methods

Addiction affects everyone in similar ways. Drug treatment methods that are effective for the general population will also be effective for the LGBTQ+ community. Patients can still enjoy the same types and levels of care, like:

The treatment options offered at each rehab facility will also be fairly similar. Patients will usually receive medical detox to ease withdrawal symptoms, as well as counseling and behavioral therapy. Sexual minorities will usually want to look for treatment programs that focus heavily on these last two treatment methods. They may want to try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

As long as patients choose evidence-based treatment programs, they’ll have a better shot at recovery. Sexual minorities, however, may want to look for rehab programs that specialize in LGBTQ+ programs.

Specialized Drug Rehab Centers Focused on LGBTQ+ Individuals

There are LGBTQ+ oriented rehab centers that offer treatment programs for queer patients. Residents receive a higher quality of care that is geared towards their sexual orientation. Staff members at these rehab facilities also receive special training so that they better understand the needs of their members.

Those who identify as a sexual minority should consider seeking addiction treatment from an LGBTQ+ rehab center. These facilities can help patients cope with:

  • Discrimination
  • Coming out to loved ones
  • Homophobia
  • Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety
  • Being rejected and ostracized by family and friends

These individuals will learn how to handle and deal with problems specific to the LGBTQ+ community. These rehab centers also help patients learn how to love themselves and accept their sexual orientation or gender identity.

These facilities can also help patients learn how to deal with other issues. Most patients leave the facility feeling more confident.

How to Choose an Effective LGBTQ+ Rehab Center

If you or a loved one is looking for an LGBTQ+ rehab center, you must understand how to choose the right rehab.

When looking for an ideal treatment program, there are many factors you need to consider. To make sure you choose the right program, do your own research. This may include looking at what each rehab center specializes and taking a tour of the facility. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does this center represent the aspects of the LGBTQ+ community? Some alcohol and drug rehab centers will reach out to all members of this community. However, others will only reach out to specific segments, such as lesbians or gay men.
  • How trained and qualified are the staff members? Not only should staff members be accepting of all sexual orientations, but they should be experienced in dealing with LGBTQ+ problems.
  • How successful are the treatment programs? It’s important to note that each rehab center defines success in its own way. Some alcohol and drug treatment facilities may require absolute abstinence, while others may be happy with better management. Make sure the center’s mission aligns with yours.
  • Will I be able to afford treatment at this facility? It’s always better to get details about the costs upfront. If you have private insurance, it may cover some, if not most, of the costs. Have our admissions team verify your insurance information and provide you with more details on the type of insurances accepted.

With some patience, determination, research, you can easily find the drug or alcohol treatment you need. 

Why Is It Important to Have Specialized LGBTQ+ Services and Programs?

Case studies show that LGBTQ+ specific programs can treat addiction more effectively than a standard treatment program. They address unique issues and situations that are often overlooked in a general program. 

Post-Rehab Care

Aftercare programs for LGBTQ+ individuals should cater more to specific issues affecting their community. Those involved with LGBTQ+ drug abuse will easily relapse if they don’t have the right aftercare support program in place. Before you leave your rehab facility, you should participate in aftercare.

There are many different types of post-rehab programs that prevent substance use and abuse. They include:

  • Sober living homes
  • Outpatient treatment programs
  • Recovery meetings

Have an addiction specialist walk you through the different programs so you have a better idea of what to expect.

Sober Living Homes

After completing addiction treatment, not every patient is ready to tackle the world on their own. One of the most popular aftercare programs is sober living homes. These living arrangements allow recovering addicts to live in a drug- and alcohol-free environment. It’s as if they’re renting a room in an apartment building or in someone else’s home.

With sober living homes, residents are expected to pay rent and all of their own living expenses, and also do some household chores. They are not allowed to do drugs or alcohol on the property.

Residents are also expected to attend meetings on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Daily meetings tend to be reflections that keep recovering addicts on the right track. Weekly meetings might touch on certain skills that can prevent relapse, and monthly meetings look at the overall health of the sober living home residents.

LGBTQ+ individuals should look for sober living homes that cater to their sexual orientation. It’s easier to live with others who understand your situation.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Those who struggle with a mild addiction will often opt for an outpatient treatment program. An outpatient program is also an excellent choice for an aftercare program. This type of treatment touches up on fundamental skills.

Sexual minorities will want to look for an outpatient treatment program that offers behavioral therapy and counseling specific to their sexual orientation. Much like standard outpatient programs, patients can choose between standard programs and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). The former does not come with any sort of time commitment. The latter requires three hours of therapy three times a week.

Recovery Meetings

The most important post-rehab care for LGBTQ+ individuals is access to a strong social and emotional support network. There are many support groups and recovery meetings that help people in this community who struggle with substance abuse.

These recovery meetings come in many different forms and types. Some follow the same structure as 12-step programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Both of these follow twelve faith-based principles. Other programs follow scientific principles. The most popular science-based support group is SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery.

For Loved-Ones: Helping an LGBTQ+ Person Cope With Drug Addiction

It doesn’t matter whether the individual is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. If they struggle with addiction, they need help immediately. Don’t let the situation worsen and fester. Reach out to them to see what you can do.

To help a LGBTQ+ individual cope with drug or alcohol addiction, consider the following:

  • Provide a judgment-free environment. Try to have an open conversation about unconditional love. Help the affected individual feel as if they can open up to you about their problems and struggles. Be careful not to perpetuate a hostile or exclusive space.
  • Bolster their self-esteem and confidence. Many LGBTQ+ individuals feel self-conscious. They may even fall victim to feelings like self-loathing, shame, and guilt. Help sexual minorities feel more confident in their own skin, especially if they are young.
  • Encourage them to seek substance abuse treatment. You can make their job even easier by giving them a list of LGBTQ+ friendly options. This way, all they have to do is make a phone call.
  • Get them counseling and therapy. Mental health disorders and substance use disorders often come hand in hand. LGBTQ+ individuals often struggle with issues that are serious enough to warrant counseling.
  • Look for alternative coping strategies for stress. This may include changing up their sleeping patterns and habits, taking up art therapy, or exercising more often.

Addiction can easily affect people of all ages, sexual orientations and incomes. It affects all genders equally, although certain genders may be more prone to abusing a certain type of drug.

To help a loved one struggling with addiction, you must first understand it yourself. Addiction is a disease. You can treat it, but you can’t cure it.

More Resources on Substance Abuse in the LGBT Community

If you are looking for recovery resources for yourself or for a loved one, you’re in luck. There are many different programs and organizations available for LGBTQ+ individuals in this day and age.

Take a look at some of the recovery resources below that offer help to LGBTQ+ individuals.

NALGAP: The Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals, and Their Allies

This organization, formed in 1979, is dedicated to preventing and treating substance abuse and alcoholism in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. NALGAP plans to confront all types and forms of discrimination and oppression. Its primary purpose is to affirm equality between all genders and sexual orientations.

The main goal of NALGAP is to provide training, networking opportunities, and medical information to recovering addicts. These help recovering addicts make a better choice on the type of treatment plan to try.

Help Is Here

This program is run by the National Mental Health Association. Call the hotline at 800-969-6642 during business hours. You can talk about different issues related to your mental health with a professional.

The National Alliance on Mental Health

This free helpline can help anyone who is struggling with a mental health issue. You can speak with a crisis counselor by calling 800-950-6264. If you’re more comfortable with texting, text NAMI to 741-731.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

It’s already tough to deal with your addiction by yourself. Now, imagine having to deal with it even though other people don’t agree with your sexual orientation. If you’re ever feeling depressed, speak with a crisis counselor by calling 800-273-TALK (8255) for 24-hour support. Don’t let this type of mental illness fester. It will only get worse.

Get Help For Your Addiction Today

Amethyst Recovery Center understands that everyone has specific needs for their drug or alcohol abuse. If you’re an LGBTQ+ individual who needs to recover from addiction, contact us today. We’ll point you in the right direction toward sobriety and self-fulfillment. 


Written by: nick

Written by: nick


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