Updated on February 6, 2024
6 min read

Is Addiction a Problem for the LGBTQ+ Community?

Key Takeaways

  • LGBTQ+ people are more likely to develop a substance use disorder (SUD) than their heterosexual counterparts
  • LGBTQ+ people often face stressors, such as homophobia, discrimination, etc. which can lead to substance use
  • Mental health disorders are more prevalent among LGBTQ+ people, increasing the risk of co-occurring disorders
  • Addiction treatment programs designed for LGBTQ+ people are available to help them recover from addiction
  • Treatment involves specialized treatment from people who empathize and understand their struggle.

Do LGBTQ+ People Use Drugs More?

Studies show that members of the LGBTQ+ community use drugs more frequently than heterosexual individuals. These sexual minorities are more prone to drug use due to personal and systemic issues.

A recent report showed that 40% to 45% of female and 40% of male sexual minorities have used illicit drugs in the past year.1 This is double the amount of heterosexual adults in the same report. Besides drug use, sexual minority adults were more likely than straight adults to develop substance use disorder (SUD).1

Members of the queer community often face homophobia, discrimination, and rejection in their daily lives. These prejudices create negative feelings that lead to physical and mental health issues, which are likely at least partially responsible for the higher rates of drug use.

In this blog, we’ll cover the prevalence of drug use in the LGBTQ+ community, why it occurs, and how it can be prevented through support groups.

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LGBTQ+ Addiction Statistics

LGBTQ+ people are at a higher risk of developing substance abuse problems or addiction. The following is a set of statistics regarding the risk of addiction among members of the LGBTQ+ community:1,2

  • Lesbian and bisexual women were more likely to engage in binge drinking than straight women in the past month
  • Lesbian and bisexual women are twice as likely to have engaged in heavy drinking
  • Gay and bisexual men and women were two to three times more likely to use marijuana and other illicit drugs compared to their straight counterparts
  • A third of bisexuals and gay men had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year
  • Bisexual women were three times more likely than straight females to have had an opioid use disorder in the past year
  • Transgender individuals have an elevated risk of substance abuse and addiction

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Commonly Abused Substances in the LGBTQ+ Community

Some of the most common drugs used in the LGBTQ+ community include:

  • Alcohol
  • Nitrite inhalants (poppers)
  • MDMA and ecstasy
  • Stimulants
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamines
  • Sedatives
  • Tranquilizers
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LGBTQ+ Health Issues and Addiction

In addition to SUDs, mental health disorders are also prevalent among the LGBTQ+ community. For example, depression and anxiety are common among queer individuals.

These often lead to other mental and physical health issues, such as:

  • Mood disorders
  • Psychological disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) such as HIV and HEP B and C
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Thoughts of suicide

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

A co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis is a condition where someone simultaneously has a mental illness and a substance use disorder (SUD). Co-occurring disorders can be difficult to treat because one disease often exacerbates the other and vice versa.

Co-occurring disorders occur more frequently in the LGBTQ+ community than in the heterosexual community. Examples of mental and emotional health issues that LGBTQ+ members experience alongside SUD include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

Personalized treatment is available for people struggling with co-occurring disorders. Dual diagnosis treatment can help members of the LGBTQ+ community work through their issues and regain control of their lives.

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What Are the Causes of SUD Among LGBTQ+ Individuals?

Various stressors affect the LGBTQ+ community, which influences the likelihood of developing SUD. Unlike heterosexual people, members of the LGBTQ+ community are more prone to facing difficulties.

These difficulties include the following:

Discrimination

LGBTQ+ individuals often face prejudice, discrimination, rejection, discriminatory practices in employment, and hate crimes. Overall, members of the LGBTQ+ community face high-stress situations almost daily.

These situations can lead to:

  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Discrimination may come from strangers, friends, and even family members. All these negative feelings and experiences can increase the risk of substance abuse.

Self-Medication

Whenever people experience high anxiety and stress levels, they may turn to substances as a coping mechanism. Using alcohol or drugs in this way is often called “self-medicating.”

Because LGBTQ+ people experience more mental and emotional stress than their heterosexual counterparts, they may end up self-medicating. However, substance abuse often leads to long-term health problems and complications.

Substances like alcohol or drugs produce high dopamine levels, making people feel good, euphoric, and confident. In some cases, this can lead to drug and alcohol dependence.

Internalized Homophobia

Internalized homophobia is characterized by an internal self-loathing or inability to accept oneself. Whether or not their families accept their sexual identity, having these negative social attitudes can lead to substance abuse.

Alcohol and drugs can be used to accept oneself or manage internalized homophobia. This is because substances can dull negative emotions and enhance confidence.

Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria happens when there is a conflict between the sex you were assigned at birth and the gender you identify with. This conflict can lead to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Discomfort

As mentioned before, these negative emotions can contribute to substance abuse risk.

Lack of Support and Healthcare for LGBTQ+ People

Stigma, discrimination, and lack of support often deter LGBTQ+ individuals from seeking healthcare. As a result, they may avoid seeking treatment for addiction and dependence.9

Not only does this increase the risk of developing SUD, but it also compromises their willingness to be treated for other illnesses.

Discriminatory public health systems may affect the likelihood of giving LGBTQ+ people treatment. These include:9

  • Legal discrimination in access to health insurance
  • Financial barriers
  • Lack of social programs that are inclusive for LGBTQ+ people of all ages
  • Lack of healthcare providers knowledgeable in LGBTQ+ health and discourse
  • Negative provider attitudes

LGBTQ+ Addiction Treatment Options

Queer people with SUD need specialized treatment from people who can empathize and understand their challenges. While the rates of substance abuse are higher among the queer community, the rate of people who seek help is also much higher in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Treatment providers must be prepared with the proper tools, resources, and practices to help members of all communities. There are also national organizations dedicated to providing affordable, comprehensive, and empathetic substance abuse treatment for the LGBTQ+ community.

These include:

Family Acceptance Project

The Family Acceptance Project is an educational resource and policy initiative to prevent health and mental health risks among LGBTQ+ individuals. They promote the well-being of queer communities for various issues within the context of families and faith communities.

These issues include:

  • Suicide
  • Homelessness
  • Substance abuse
  • HIV

The project is devoted to preventing health risks and strengthening family relationships. This helps build healthy bonds and futures for LGBTQ+ and queer-diverse children.

NALGAP

The Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies (NALGAP) is a group dedicated to preventing and treating SUD within queer communities.

The organization confronts oppression and discriminatory practices to deliver services and treatment to everyone. They provide information and resources regarding addiction and other related problems for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance behavioral health. They provide various resources for addiction and treatment.

They also provide various LGBTQ-related resources such as:

  • Survey reports
  • Programs and initiatives
  • Behavioral health resources
  • Federal resources

Support Groups

Support groups provide a community of like-minded individuals with similar struggles and experiences. These groups help you share your feelings and experiences regarding SUD.

These programs include:

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Updated on February 6, 2024
9 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Behavioral Health: Results from the 2021 and 2022 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Adminstration, 2023.
  2. Ruppert et al. “Review: Prevalence of Addictions among Transgender and Gender Diverse Subgroups.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2021.
  3. Boyd et al. “Severity of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Use Disorders Among Sexual Minority Individuals and Their "Not Sure" Counterparts.” LGBT Health, 2019.
  4. Math, S., and Seshadr, S. “The invisible ones: sexual minorities.” The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 2013.
  5. NIDA. "Substance Use and SUDs in LGBTQ* Populations." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2017.
  6. Medley et al. “Sexual Orientation and Estimates of Adult Substance Use and Mental Health: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” National Survey on Drug Use and Health Data Review, SAMHSA, 2016.
  7. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT).” SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2023.
  8. “Accelerating Acceptance 2017.” GLAAD, 2017.
  9. How Discrimination Impacts LGBTQ Healthcare.” St. Catherine University, 2021.

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