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LGBTQ & Addiction


Those who identify as LGBTQ often face unique stressors that can lead to substance abuse.

People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or questioning/queer (LGBTQ) are a specific group that are at risk for substance abuse and addiction. This occurs for many reasons, one being that individuals in this group often experience quite a bit of stress and difficulty due to their sexual orientation, including deciding whether or not to come out and coming to terms with their sexuality. As a result, substance abuse can become a way to mask the issue while it really only makes things much worse.

If you or someone you love identifies as LGBTQ or another type of sexual minority and is struggling with substance abuse and/or addiction, now is the time to seek help. Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to speak with a treatment advisor, and you can begin your journey of recovery by finding the best, most effective detox and rehab centers for your safe, professional treatment.

LGBTQ People and Addiction: How and Why It Happens

A national survey from 2015 found that individuals who identify as a sexual minority have an increased risk of substance abuse and addiction. These individuals can include anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, which can include not only the orientations represented in the acronym but also individuals who are asexual, intersex, pansexual, non-binary, gender fluid, and any other form of sexuality or gender that is not heterosexual and cisgender.

Unfortunately, this problem has become more and more serious with time, although we have also become more aware of it. There are many reasons why substance abuse is more prevalent among the LGBTQ population.

People who have a different sexual orientation or gender often struggle with stressors when it comes to coming to terms with these differences, identifying oneself, and coming out to others. Many people live in fear of these stressors and others attempt to ignore them completely. Though some individuals are perfectly comfortable expressing themselves, others are not.

  • This can lead to substance abuse in those who hope to mask their issues with their sexuality or gender. In addition, some people may turn to drugs or alcohol just to cope with the stress.

People who identify as LGBTQ are also more likely to suffer from mental disorders due to the difficulty of finding acceptance in our society. Others may struggle with their self-images. In general, mental illnesses and disorders are common among this population.

  • People with mental disorders are twice as likely as the regular population to become addicted to drugs with the reverse also true (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

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LGBTQ people are also more likely to experience violence or harassment during their lives. They may be harmed because of their sexuality or gender even before they realize their identities themselves.

  • This kind of trauma can often lead to substance abuse. Many people attempt to block out the experiences of the past with drugs or alcohol.

There are many reasons why substance abuse and addiction are prevalent in the LGBTQ community. However, this is not because people who experience this issue are morally or mentally weak. The NIDA states that addiction is more likely to affect different people because of certain risk factors and also that those who become addicted often cannot stop on their own. This is because substance abuse changes the way the brain works, not because addicts are deficient in some way.

Recognizing Addiction in People Who Identify as LGBTQ

If you have a friend, a family member, or another loved one who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community and has been acting strangely, you may be concerned substance abuse and addiction are to blame. This is a considerable possibility, as you have seen above. Look for the signs of addiction in an LGBTQ individual in order to determine if your concerns are potentially based in fact. They are as follows:

  • The individual withdraws from society and becomes isolated.
  • They stop participating in activities they once enjoyed (National Library of Medicine).
  • They change to a different group of friends or start spending more and more time alone.
  • They experience a downturn in their work or school performance to a serious degree.
  • They begin to ignore their responsibilities in favor of substance abuse.
  • They make excuses to use, including the need to take the edge off or to nullify bad feelings.
  • They experience intense and unpredictable mood swings.
  • They become hostile when their substance abuse is discussed.
  • They experience negative symptoms and emotions if they are suddenly unable to use drugs.
  • They start behaving secretively in order to hide their substance abuse.
  • They feel they can only be themselves when they’re high.
  • They lack control over their substance abuse, using all the time, even if they know their use is hurting them or their loved ones.
  • They need drugs every day in order to function.

If you begin to notice any of these signs, it is very likely the individual is struggling with a serious substance abuse disorder and will need help. Sadly, many people turn to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with issues they are experiencing, and this happens often in the LGBTQ community. What’s more, this is an even greater issue in the youth of the LGBTQ community. According to a study published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 8.3 percent of adolescents in this group suffer from a substance use disorder.

Those who realize that someone they love is abusing drugs or alcohol should talk to their friend or family member and seek help for them. The best, safest way to recover from a disorder such as this is in a professional treatment program that can offer all the evidence based practices—as well as additional necessary options—needed for an effective recovery.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Someone Who Is LGBTQ?

In addition to the evidence-based practices associated with addiction treatment, LGBTQ individuals do require specific and individualized options just like a number of other groups. Because these individuals make up a large portion of the people suffering from addiction, it is important that they receive effective care that takes their health and happiness into account.

People who identify as LGBTQ will often receive the same general treatment options as people who are heterosexual or cisgender. This can include medications and behavioral therapies.

These two programs often go hand-in-hand when it comes to addiction treatment, and as stated by the NIDA, they are most effective when used together.

  • Medications may be used to treat withdrawal symptoms during detox, to minimize cravings, and/or to treat mental disorders concurrent with addiction.
  • Behavioral therapies can be especially helpful and can allow patients to learn coping skills that they can implement into their lives in place of substance abuse. Behavioral therapies can also be used to help LGBTQ individuals come to terms with their identities, desires, and requirements for a happy, healthy life.
  • Holistic treatments are also becoming more and more popular among every group seeking substance use disorder treatment. Programs like yoga, meditation, massage therapy, and others could be beneficial in this instance.

This community has struggled with finding the right treatment options in the past, however. According to the NIDA, counselors in treatment centers must be trained in trauma and LGBTQ sensitivity in order to provide adequate and beneficial care.

  • Individuals were not always specifically trained to help those in this community, nor were they aware of how to be sensitive to their situations. Receiving proper training is necessary for doctors, nurses, and counselors who want to help LGBTQ people recover safely from addiction.

Some individuals may even want to find a detox or rehab center that is designed only for patients in this community rather than for both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ patients.

  • This can provide a sense of community and care for patients, especially for those who have experienced harassment, ridicule, or violence at the hands of others. Not only does this offer a safe environment but it can also help patients develop friendships with other people with similar experiences, a component of both treatment and aftercare that is extremely helpful during recovery.

There are both detox and rehab centers that offer this type of care. Most people who are suffering from mental disorders and addictions at the same time will fare better in inpatient care, especially early on. If this is your or your loved one’s situation, inpatient treatment could be a safer choice. In general, anyone who requires specialized treatment should consider this option, as it is more likely you will find the individualized care you seek in one of these programs.

Getting Help for LGBTQ Identifying Individuals with Substance Use Disorders

You can find help for yourself or for someone you love who is LGBTQ and also has a substance use disorder. We are happy to assist you in finding the most effective facilities for your needs, as well as programs that will accept your insurance and offer you individualized care. Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) today to begin your recovery as soon as possible.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. NSDUH Data Review. (2016). Sexual Orientation and Estimates of Adult Substance Use and Mental Health: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses. 
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018). Substance Use Disorder.
  5. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. (2016). Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Creating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Treatment-Sensitive Substance Abuse Counselors: The Importance of Cultural Competency. 
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