Asana Recovery

LGBTQIA+ and Addiction


According to the results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), people from the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to use illicit drugs and more likely to suffer from a substance use disorder (SUD).  

Substance Abuse and Dependence Among the LGBTQIA+ Population

Research has shown that those who identify among sexual minorities have significantly higher overall rates of substance use and substance use disorders in comparison to heterosexual counterparts. With regards to specific substances, gay and bisexual men have a higher propensity to abuse methamphetamine when compared to heterosexual men. This is particularly problematic because it has been linked to higher risk of HIV transmission. Transgender individuals have also been identified as demonstrating higher risk substance use behaviors and report higher than average rates of methamphetamine use. Other substances that are abused at higher rates by those in the LGBTQIA+ community in comparison to those who identify as heterosexual include tobacco, marijuana, amphetamines and heroin.

Substance Abuse Factors

Research has tried to identify common characteristics of LGBTQIA+ individuals who report problematic substance abuse or who seek treatment for substance use disorders to better elucidate the increased rates of substance use disorders in this population. Studies have found that LGBTQIA+ individuals faced higher incidences of stressful childhood experiences including bullying and family conflict. The LGBTQIA+ community also continues to face discrimination and social stigma based on their sexual orientation. They are also the target of harassment, hate crimes, threats, public humiliation or contempt, and may not have received support from their family or friends. As a result of these increased social challenges, many LGBTQIA+ individuals may have internalized homophobia or self-hatred that leads them to self-medicate or numb themselves from the uncomfortable feelings they experience. While substances may help to assuage the discomfort felt by the individual initially, there are likely additional long term consequences for burying emotions and self-medicating. 

Many members of the LGBTQIA+ community were forced to live a “closeted” life and have been forced to hide their sexual orientation. This secret can take an emotional toll on individuals over time thus making co-occurring disorders such as clinical depression and anxiety common, as well as eating disorders, mood disorders and other psychiatric conditions. Unfortunately, when an individual decides to “come out of the closet”, they may be met with mixed responses from their friends and family. This confirmation of their fears of rejection may lead to additional emotional distress and drive the individual to further alcohol or drug use. Other physical or health issues related to the individual’s sexuality may also contribute to their addiction, such as hepatitis, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as compulsive sexual behavior, sexual dysfunction, HIV anxiety, as well as sexual abuse or assault. These conditions can lead to substance abuse problems or propagate the underlying psychological issues. Substance use disorders are also associated with increased risk of suicide or suicidal ideation among LGBTQIA+ adults.

Treatment Factors and Considerations for LGBTQIA+ patients

While the rates of substance use disorder in the LGBTQIA+ community are higher, LGBTQIA+ individuals seek treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders at a significantly higher rate as well. Unfortunately, there are few treatment centers that offer specialized programs geared towards treating these patients and the specific needs of this population, which can have a negative impact on treatment successes and outcomes. In a 2013 interview study of gay and lesbian alumni from a variety of different treatment programs, three major themes were identified as being important for a treatment program for LGBTQIA+ members: 

  1. A separate unit for sexual minorities
  2. Safe and supportive staff, including those who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community
  3. Specialized treatment programs for a variety of substances or addictions

Treatment programs that focus on some of the isolating characteristics of the LGBTQIA+ experience and processing the trauma of previous experiences can help with lasting recovery and effective healing. These programs are also sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community and should target the challenges that the individual may have faced while building a sense of community around the individual. They should also help to identify and treat other co-occurring mental health disorders to give individuals the highest chance for sustainable sobriety.

Addiction Treatment in California

If you identify as LGBTQIA+ and are seeking treatment, our welcoming environment gives you a safe place to focus on healing and recovery. Contact Asana Recovery or give us a call today at 949-763-3440. Our trained professionals will walk you through the admissions process and make sure all of your questions are answered. The first step is admitting you need help, and it is often the hardest. Once you take that first step, there will be a team on your side to help you be successful in your new future.