The movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and those who are questioning brings up the issues of marriage, workplace, and social stigmas and discrimination. Issues like these have dominated the media headlines as well as the time and attention of most of the movement’s loyal advocates. But these are not the only issues that impact the overall well being, health and equality of the LGBTQ community; they just don’t seem to get as much attention or are not as well known by the populace. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender physical and mental health is just one of those such issues. Substance abuse in the LGBTQ community is experienced at much higher rates than the general population.
Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ Community Higher Than Most Groups
It may surprise you to learn that the LGBTQ community experiences much higher rates of substance abuse than many other groups of people, which is a notable health impediment to the individuals who are a part of this group. Being a part of this community can sometimes come along with daily fights against discrimination and stigma. Whether it be from family, supposed friends, or a stranger walking down the street, these situations can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. And it is those types of cases which are the primary force behind the disproportionately high rates of substance abuse in the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ people tend to turn towards alcohol, tobacco, and other illicit substances as a way to deal with and cope with these obstacles.
Lack of Data on Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ Community
The rate of substance use disorders among the LGBTQ community is not that well known. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), statistics data is not readily available. Some studies estimate that between 20 and 30 percent of individuals in the LGBTQ community abuse a substance of some kind, whether legal or illicit. Compared with the general population’s rate of about 9 percent, those figures are staggering.
Jeremy Goldbach, Ph.D., LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker), who is an assistant professor at the University of Southern California School of Social Work, notes that national research has shown that substance abuse is twice as rampant among LGBTQ youths when compared with their peers. Goldbach also adds, “Less than half a percent of all [National Institutes of Health] funding went to LGBTQ issues, and within that half a percent, 82 percent was focused on sexual risk and HIV. So if it’s not about sexual risk or HIV, and primarily in adult gay men, we have no idea” in regards to the actual statistics.
Elaine M. Maccio, Ph.D., LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) an associate professor at the Louisiana State University School of Social Work explains one of the reasons for the lack of substantial data regarding substance abuse among LGBTQ individuals, “It’s important to keep in mind the challenges in conducting research on any topic among LGBT people because of the inherent difficulty in defining, identifying, and locating participants.”
Due to a lack of national information, the below statistics on substance abuse in the LGBTQ community are just some of the best-estimated figures:
- Tobacco: Transgender and gay individuals smoke up to 200 percent more tobacco than heterosexual and non-transgender individuals.
- Alcohol: 25 percent of the gay and transgender population abuses alcohol; the general population’s alcohol abuse rate is between 5 and 10 percent.
- LGBTQ individuals who entered treatment for substance use disorders began using alcohol earlier than their heterosexual peers.
- Gay men, specifically men who have sex with other men, are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana than other men.
- Those men are also 12.2 times more likely to abuse amphetamines than other men.
- They are also 9.5 times more likely to use heroin than other men who do not have sex with men.
Factors to Consider with Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ Community
There are three primary factors to consider when looking at the high figures of substance use among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Number one being that many of these people live with a higher level of stress and anxiety due to discrimination and social bigotry in vital areas of their daily lives such as their workplace, healthcare offices, and can even experience these things while accomplishing simple tasks like grocery shopping.
Number two is a gross lack of culturally aware and knowledgeable healthcare services and drug rehabilitation and treatment facility options. Many times when an LGBTQ individual does seek treatment, it leads to inappropriate services or services that just are not relevant to the individual’s specific needs.
Number three is that alcohol and tobacco companies targeted marketing practices allow them to benefit from and exploit the relationship many LGBTQ people have to clubs and bars, considering them safe places to interact and socialize, by increasing the hassle-free accessibility to alcohol and various tobacco products.
In 2015, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) stated, “LGBT persons also have a greater likelihood than non-LGBT persons of experiencing a substance use disorder (SUD) in their lifetime, and they often enter treatment with more severe SUDs.”
As stated in the above statistics, the Center for American Progress‘s study said that bisexual and gay men are almost ten times more likely than straight men to use heroin and 12 times more likely to use amphetamines like crystal meth.
With these statistics, you may be wondering what percentage of Americans are addicted to drugs? When taking into consideration the spike in drug availability, especially opioids, to the point that our nation is now experiencing its worst drug problem which is known as the “opioid epidemic”, it is safe to say that the number of drug addicts in the US has been on a steady rise for years, no matter how they identify.
- In 2015, 27.1 million people aged 12 or older in the United States, had used an illegal substance within the past month of being surveyed. That boils down to nearly one out of every 10 Americans who are using an illicit substance(s).
- 20.8 million U.S. citizens, also aged 12 or older, are struggling with a substance use disorder. Out of those people, 15.7 million of them had an alcohol use disorder, and 7.7 million had an illicit drug use disorder.
- Drug overdose death is now the number one cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, beating out fatal car crashes and gun-related deaths.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals alike are sometimes hesitant to take advantage of the healthcare services available to help them overcome their struggle with substance abuse and addiction. The reason for this is that they are all too aware of the probability of interacting with healthcare experts who are completely unaware, or uncaring, of their particular needs or that are outwardly antagonistic towards them. Because of this, many LGBTQ individuals would instead delay treatment for their substance use disorders or decide to keep their sexual or gender orientation a secret. Because of them feeling this way, it can further damage their overall health and inhibit their recovery process.
Despite how you may identify, the drug problems in our country are severe and proper drug treatment is vital to all who are seeking rehabilitation. Everyone deserves a safe place to physically and mentally recover and heal from the traumas that accompany substance use and move on to lead healthy sober lives. Substance abuse in the LGBTQ community is a severe problem for our nation, and these individuals deserve the same compassionate and professional treatment as all who are struggling with addiction issues.