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Information on Substance Abuse Treatment for the LGBTQ+ Community

Created On Friday, 06, January 2017
Modified On Friday, 17, September 2021

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The rates of substance abuse and addiction are some of the highest in the country within the LGBTQ+ community. However, there are numerous substance abuse treatment programs, support groups, private and publicly funded resources to help members of this community who are struggling with addiction. Substance abuse treatment the LGBTQ+ community provides specific and standard resources to treat addiction. Some of the better programs offer assistance with issues of abuse, trauma, stigmatization, violence, and harassment. Moreover, the programs connect people with others who understand and support them.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Use, and Substance Use Disorders in LGBTQ+ populations—people who identify as part of this community often face social stigma, discrimination, and other challenges not encountered by someone who is heterosexual. Also, members of the LGBTQ+ community face a greater risk of harassment and violence, and as a result, they are at an increased risk of substance abuse and addiction.

Data taken from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggested that substance use patterns reported by sexual minority adults are higher compared to those reported by heterosexual adults. Approximately 37.6% of sexual minority adults aged 18 and older reported past-year marijuana use. Past year opioid use was also higher, with 9% of sexual minority adults aged or older. Substance abuse treatment programs for the LGBTQ+ community offer specific treatment resources and support.

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The Barriers Facing the LGBTQ+ Community Creating Problems with Substance Abuse and Addiction

Members of the LGBTQ+ community often enter treatment with more severe substance abuse and addiction problems. Unfortunately, those who identify as LGBTQ+ have historically experienced extensive discrimination personally and publicly. Some of the contributing factors to why substance abuse begins to include facing exclusion from social groups and activities. LGBTQ+ individuals face physical abuse by family members or partners and rejection by the family of origin or spiritual communities. There are also problems with job loss, loss of child custody, or other forms of public discrimination.

Moreover, they experience violence based on sexual orientation or gender identification, peer ridicule and rejection, and sexuality discrimination combined with other forms of discrimination. Unfortunately, members of the LGBTQ+ community face many of these issues and turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping. According to the American Psychological Association, substance use problems were more prevalent in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations. Recent research has suggested that lesbian and bisexual women are at greater risk for alcohol and drug use, and gay and bisexual men are a greater risk for illicit drug use.

According to an article published in Social Work Today, data taken from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggest that 20% to 30% of the LGBTQ+ community struggle with some substance use disorder. A contributing factor is minority stress from facing obstacles such as discrimination, stigma, and family rejection. Someone who is raised in an unsupportive culture, surrounded by homophobia and bullying, and lacking family support contributes to substance abuse.

Members of the adult LGBTQ+ community may be discouraged from asking for help because of previous negative experiences in coming out to health care providers or anticipating negative reactions. LGBTQ+-friendly and drug and alcohol treatment centers work to address the unique needs of individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning. Rehabilitation programs offer safe environments that help them during the entire recovery process.

When is Drug and Alcohol Rehab for Members of the LGBTQ+ Community the Best Option?

Like any other person struggling with addiction, it is important for family and friends to notice the signs of addiction. Someone may continue to misuse or take prescription drugs that are no longer needed for a health problem. The individual may require more and more of a substance to get the same effects and take more of the drug to feel the same effects. When you abuse drugs, you feel strange when you are not using them and experience withdrawal symptoms.

You are unable to stop yourself from using drugs even if you want to and begin to experience countless problems with work, friends, and family life. You spend a lot of time thinking about drugs and how to get more. Also, you have a hard time giving yourself limits, and you begin to lose interest in the things you once liked to do. Everyday tasks of normal life become difficult, and you begin to experience physical and psychological health problems.

Your family and friends begin to notice changes in personality and behavior, such as a lack of motivation, irritability, and agitation. There are changes in your daily routine, lack of concern for personal hygiene, and the unusual need for money, along with financial problems. These are all general indicators to look for, and that should raise concern. Early intervention is important to help your loved one enter an LGBTQ+ friendly substance abuse treatment center.

Why Choose LGBTQ+ Friendly Drug and Alcohol Rehab?

Members of the LGBTQ+ community could complete substance abuse treatment at any program. However, because no one treatment center is the best fit for every addiction, and tailored programs are more effective, an LGBTQ+ friendly treatment center is the best choice. These facilities usually have staff who are experienced in handling sexual orientation, sexual expression, and related issues. Sexual minorities may feel isolated if they know the people that are trying to help them have to experience in treating members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Counselors and therapists have an understanding of the coming out process, the stages of sexual identity development, and how this is all incorporated into a treatment setting. There are many issues that members of the LGBTQ+ community face that may not be known if someone is not knowledgeable about the facts and current issues.

The goal of addiction treatment is the same, which is to stop the cycle of addiction. However, treatment centers for members of the LGBTQ+ community may address more complex goals. Patients may need assistance with fundamental identity issues that relate to their substance abuse, for example. Overall, the rehabilitation process is well-rounded and provides the same benefits as any other treatment program but is catered to the LGBTQ+ community.

Specifically, it is addressing barriers that members of this community face. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that gay and bisexual men, lesbian and transgender individuals are more likely to use alcohol and drugs when compared to the general population. They are also more likely to have higher substance abuse rates, not withhold from alcohol and drug use, and continue heavy drinking into later life.

Drug and alcohol use within the LGBTQ+ community is often a reaction to homophobia, discrimination, or violence experienced due to their sexual orientation. These problems disrupt relationships, employment and threaten financial stability. All of these issues are specifically addressed within an LGBTQ+ friendly substance abuse treatment program.

How Do Substance Abuse Treatment Programs for the LGBTQ+ Community Operate?

LGBTQ+ friendly drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers operate the same way as any other program but provide specific help with the barriers to treatment and addressing specific issues many LGBTQ+s face. The rehabilitation process usually begins with an assessment, which could be done over the phone or in-person. The purpose of an addiction assessment is to determine the extent of addiction and what treatment options are the best fit. During the initial assessment, the family or addict would explore the LGBTQ+ friendly substance abuse treatment options available.

The first phase of rehabilitation is detox, and the process is essential for managing withdrawal symptoms. Typically, the severity of addiction and accompanying withdrawal symptoms determine the method of detox needed. Medically supervised detox or withdrawal management is used to treat opioid addiction, alcoholism, or prescription drug abuse. Conventional detox programs are commonly used to treat most street drug addiction because withdrawal symptoms do not require medical supervision. Detox should not be considered the only treatment option because it does not provide adequate counseling and support.

The next phase of treatment involves attending either inpatient or outpatient drug rehabilitation. The addiction assessment would help determine what method of treatment is needed. Outpatient treatment or an intensive outpatient program are excellent options for someone that is still working and has family support. The patient does not live at the facility but attends treatment daily. Residential rehabilitation provides live-in accommodations, and all the necessary counseling and therapy are offered in one location. Inpatient treatment programs are either long-term or short-term—the extent of addiction determines the length of time needed.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Use, and Substance Use Disorders in LGBTQ+ Populations—addiction treatment programs offering specialized groups for gay and bisexual men showed better outcomes for those clients compared to gay and bisexual men in non-specialized programs. Research has also shown that transgender individuals are more likely to seek substance use disorder treatment that the non-transgender population. Most research suggests that rehabilitation should address the unique factors in the lives of LGBTQ+ community members. For example, this would include homophobia, family problems, violence, and social isolation.

Are There Alternatives to Drug and Alcohol Treatment Programs for the LGBTQ+ Community?

The alternatives would be programs that are not necessarily catered to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, there are potential barriers to addiction treatment, and as a result, many addicts may not seek out help. However, LGBTQ+ friendly addiction treatment provides individualized care that has been proven to be more effective. The rehab centers provide essential support programs to aid those in recovery.

Additionally, these are accepting environments, including a basic understanding and openness concerning the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. Moreover, there is support from LGBTQ+ peers, which is a vital component of addiction treatment and group therapy. LGBTQ+ friendly programs are more likely to create support groups with peers experiencing similar issues and problems in life.

Because of the growing understanding of these issues, many treatment centers are asserting their ability to provide treatment that caters to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Addiction treatment experts also recognize that the treatment is more likely to result in long-term recovery because of the specific approaches. These programs help manage responses to discrimination from others, along with dealing with co-occurring disorders providing a well-rounded treatment approach.

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Adults—approximately one in two adults struggle with illicit drug addiction. Seven in ten adults struggle with alcohol use, while one in five adults struggled with illicit drugs and alcohol. Approximately 16.5% or 2.1 million people aged 18 or older had a substance use disorder. In 2018, about 6.1% of the LGBTQ+ community used alcohol for the first time. Also, in 2018, 64.3% of adults aged 18 to 25 used alcohol, and 12.5% had an alcohol use disorder--55.3% of adults aged 25 and over, used alcohol, and 5.1% had an alcohol use disorder.

The most commonly used drugs within the LGBTQ+ community are marijuana (37.6%), psychotropic drugs (14.8%), hallucinogens (7.5%), cocaine (6.6%), inhalants (3.8%), methamphetamine (2.5%), and heroin (0.7%), per the SAMSHA report.

Common Terminology with LGBTQ+ Community Substance Abuse Treatment Programs

Term Definition
LGBTQ+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning. The terms are used to describe a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBTQ+ Friendly Drug and Alcohol Rehabs are inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs, peer support groups, or recovery housing with experienced staff in handling sexual orientation and sexual expression-related issues. The programs offer specific counseling and therapy catering to the patient's needs to address the problems they experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, which has contributed to their addiction.
Co-Occurring Disorders this is defined as someone who has more than one disorder relating to the use of alcohol and other drugs of abuse and mental health disorders.
Discrimination the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. Discrimination is a common reason why someone who identifies as LGBTQ++ would turn to drugs or alcohol.
Homophobia is defined as a dislike or prejudice again gay people. Also, it is an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.
Behavioral Therapy for Addiction these are behavioral approaches that help engage people in drug abuse treatment, provide incentives for them to remain in treatment and drug-free. The therapy also helps modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse and increase their life skills to handle stressful circumstances and environmental cues. There are many forms of behavioral therapies used to treat addiction, like cognitive behavioral therapy.
Medical Detoxification is part of addiction recovery and provides a safe environment for withdrawal from drugs or alcohol under medical supervision. Typically, the person is given medication to control withdrawal symptoms associated with detox. The detox process is made safer and easier to manage.
Peer Support Groups these are part of addiction recovery and provide an opportunity for participants to achieve significant recovery among their peers. Peer support groups within the LGBTQ+ community are made up of other members struggling with similar issues and sharing similar experiences.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Marcel Gemme, DATS - Author

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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.


Michael Leach, CCMA - Medically Reviewed on September 17, 2021

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Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.