The LGBTQ+ Community and Addiction

Studies have proven that members of the LGBTQ+ community use drugs and alcohol more frequently than their heterosexual peers. Psychologists and scientists believe that this is mostly due to the unique challenges and pressures that homophobia, discrimination, and outdated legal, religious, and ethical practices put on members of the queer community.
Evidence Based
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What Does LGBTQ+ Mean?

LGBTQ+ is the most common abbreviation used to describe all of the communities included in the LGBTTTQQIAA. These communities include:

  • Lesbian
  • Gay
  • Bisexual
  • Transgender
  • Transexual
  • Two-Spirit
  • Queer
  • Questioning
  • Intersex
  • Asexual
  • Ally
  • Pansexual
  • Agender
  • Gender Queer
  • Bigender
  • Gender Variant
  • Pangender

This is not a comprehensive list. The words used to describe these communities, sexual identities, and gender identities are constantly evolving and growing. People may identify as something that is not included in our list. Other all-encompassing terms (besides LGBTQ+ include “Queer Community” and “Rainbow Community.” 

Scientific studies may refer to people whose gender identity or sexual identity, orientation, or practices differ from the majority of their surrounding society as “sexual minorities” or “gender minorities.”

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Drugs and The LGBTQ+ Community

Studies show that members of the LGBTQ+ community use drugs more frequently than their heterosexual counterparts. A 2016 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that about 39 percent of queer adults had used illicit drugs in the past year. This is more than double the amount of heterosexual adults included in the same report (about 17 percent).

Furthermore, the same report found that about 15 percent of LGBTQ+ people reported having a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year, compared to only 7 percent of non-LGBTQ+ people.

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

  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamines
  • Sedatives
  • Tranquilizers

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.

Graphic human body showing symptoms.

LGBTQ+ Health Issues and Addiction

In addition to substance use disorders (SUD), mental health disorders are also more prevalent among the LGBTQ+ community. 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
  • STIs and STDs such as HIV and HEP B/C
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Suicide

A person with co-occurring disorders, sometimes called dual disorders, has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder (SUD) at the same time. Co-occurring disorders often feed off of one another and make it extremely challenging for an individual to overcome them. Depression and anxiety are often underlying issues.

Co-occurring disorders occur more frequently in the LGBTQ+ community than the heterosexual community.

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LGBTQ+ Statistics

Percentages of the US population identifying as LGBTQ+ by age:

  • 12 percent of the total population of the US identifies as LGBTQ+
  • 20 percent of people age 18-34 identify as LGBTQ+
  • 12 percent of people age 35-51 identify as LGBTQ+
  • 7 percent of people age 52-71 identify as LGBTQ+
  • 5 percent aged 72 or older identify as LGBTQ+

— Accelerating Acceptance 2017. GLAAD

Percentages of the US population identifying as allies by age:

(Non-LGBTQ+ individuals who are either “very” or “somewhat” comfortable in all situations involving the LGBTQ+ community)

  • 63 percent of people age 18-34 are considered allies
  • 53 percent of people age 35-51 are considered allies
  • 51 percent of people age 52-71 are considered allies
  • 39 percent of people age 72 or older are considered allies

— Accelerating Acceptance 2017. GLAAD

Graphic of graphs and statistics.

LGBTQ+ Addiction Statistics

  • People who identify as gay or lesbian are more than twice as likely as those who identify as heterosexual to have a “severe” alcohol or tobacco use disorder
  • People who identify as bisexual are three times as likely to develop a substance use disorder
  • People who are not sure how to identify their sexual identity are five times as likely to have a SUD
  • Transgender students are two and a half times more likely to use drugs than cisgender students (students whose gender identity is the same as their birth sex)
  • 58 percent of Australian LGBTQ+ youths listed “homophobia” as a reason for drug and alcohol use

— Accelerating Acceptance 2017. GLAAD

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LGBTQ+ Addiction Treatment Options

The difficulties members of the LGBTQ+ community face due to homophobia, discrimination, and outdated legal, religious, and ethical practices, are unique — members of the heterosexual community do not experience them. Therefore, queer people who suffer from substance use disorders (SUD) need specialized treatment from people who understand and empathize with 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 need to be prepared with the proper tools and practices in place to help members of all communities.

Some national organizations that have dedicated themselves to ensuring that members of the LGBTQ+ communities have access to affordable, comprehensive, and empathetic treatment options, include:

Family Acceptance Project
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
The Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies
Alcoholics Anonymous
SMART Recovery

Resources

Boyd, Carol J et al. “Severity of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Use Disorders Among Sexual Minority Individuals and Their "Not Sure" Counterparts.” LGBT health vol. 6,1 (2019): 15-22. doi:10.1089/lgbt.2018.0122

Math, Suresh Bada, and Shekhar P Seshadri. “The invisible ones: sexual minorities.” The Indian journal of medical research vol. 137,1 (2013): 4-6.

NIDA. "Substance Use and SUDs in LGBTQ* Populations." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 5 Sep. 2017, https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/substance-use-suds-in-lgbtq-populations.

Medley, Grace, and Jonaki Bose. “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, Oct. 2016, www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015.htm

Cathy.carr. “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT).” SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 24 Feb. 2020, www.samhsa.gov/behavioral-health-equity/lgbt.

“Accelerating Acceptance 2017.” GLAAD, 30 Mar. 2017, www.glaad.org/publications/accelerating-acceptance-2017.

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Author
Michael Bayba
About
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Medically Reviewed: April 15, 2020
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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