Addictions can affect anyone, anywhere, anytime. People from all walks of life can struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction. However, statistics show that some marginalized groups of people can be more susceptible to addiction. When taking a look at lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) people, it becomes evident just how much drugs and alcohol can affect this community. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Research suggests that sexual minorities (e.g., people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual) are at greater risk for substance use and mental health issues compared with the sexual majority population that identifies as being heterosexual” (www.samhsa.gov). Though there are many reasons for someone to use drugs or alcohol, LGBT+ people face hardships or difficulties (trauma) in their lives which may lead them down a path of addiction as a solution to feel better and cover up the shame. Those struggles lead to an LGBT person to rely on drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. What starts off as a way to blow off some steam, a casual night out with friends or just a glass of wine can turn into an addiction and make people feel like they need drugs or alcohol every day.
For the LGBT+ community, this poses a risk not only to their physical health, but mental health as well. When faced with unaccepting or affirming family members, homelessness, abuse, rejection and trauma, their reliance on drugs or alcohol takes a toll on their daily life. Unfortunately, “Many federally funded surveys have only recently started to ask about sexual orientation and gender identification in their data collections. Surveys thus far have found that sexual minorities have higher rates of substance misuse and substance use disorders (SUDs) than people who identify as heterosexual. Therefore, it is not yet possible to establish long-term trends about substance use and SUD prevalence in LGBTQ populations.” (drugabuse.gov). When struggling with addiction, it becomes necessary for LGBTQ people to turn to rehab, therapy, counseling or treatment centers.
However, there ends up being a specific need from LGBTQ people when getting help for drug or alcohol addiction: an educated LGBTQ affirming staff. While it may be true that anyone can experience addiction, it is important to remember that oftentimes LGBTQ people face discrimination and lack of understanding. Admitting that you need help and gaining the courage to do something about it is no easy feat. It can sometimes take weeks, months or years for someone to finally do something about their addiction. Adding unacceptance or discrimination on top of that makes the situation even harder. Although a mental health or social work professional may mean well and may be trained to deal with addiction, it might not necessarily be the best fit. LGBT people need to know that they are receiving help for their addiction from someone who is affirming, knowledgeable, and understanding. Finding a mental health professional who understands the LGBT community is crucial in helping an LGBT person overcome a drug or alcohol addiction.