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Is the LGBT Community at Higher Risk for Addiction?

Addiction is an indiscriminate disease. Anyone who experiments with alcohol or drugs—regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, location, political affiliation and so on—could become chemically dependent. Moreover, people can begin abusing dangerous, mind-altering substance for any number of reasons; however, many of those reasons amount to substance abuse being a form of self-medication. In effect, individuals may resort to alcohol or drug abuse due to some physical or emotional pain.

Unfortunately, alcohol and drug addiction develops from continuous, habitual substance abuse whether an individual feels the behavior is warranted or not. However, a growing body of research has sought to identify when individuals experience higher rates of addiction due to some demographic-specific catalyst or catalysts. In many instances, those demographics that experience high addiction rates are ethnic or sexual minorities such as members of the LGBT community. In fact, statistics indicate that individuals who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) develop substance abuse disorders at a rate that’s between two and three times higher 1 than the societal average, prompting many to wonder what specific factors are contributing to this alarming trend.

The LGBT Community as Sexual Minority

Is the LGBT Community at Higher Risk for Addiction?Although there have been some recent victories, such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” individuals who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or genderqueer still experience much discrimination today. Often beginning during adolescence, when individuals are still establishing their own identities, many LGBT individuals are harassed and bullied by their peers, causing them to see society as judgmental and homophobic. In addition to being harassed and discriminated against, homosexuality is heavily stigmatized 2 in American society as well as abroad with much of the social majority under the perception that the LGBT community is immoral 3 or that they all have AIDS or HIV due to their lifestyle.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is what’s referred to as a sexual minority. By definition, a minority group 4 consists of individuals who are differentiated from the social majority on the basis of their ethnicity, race or some other cultural difference. For instance, African-Americans are a minority group, and one which has historically experienced much discrimination. Similarly, members of the LGBT community are considered a sexual minority due to the majority of the population being heterosexual in orientation, which is widely perceived as being “normal” while homosexuality is often viewed as “abnormal,” a concept called heteronormativity 5.

How the Minority Stress Model Explains the Addiction Spike in the LGBT Community

Whereas approximately 10 percent of the American population as a whole are currently suffering from addiction to alcohol or drugs, estimates for the LGBT community suggest that between 20 and 30 percent 6 of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals are currently suffering from addiction. Moreover, roughly one in four homosexual and transgender individuals abuse alcohol regularly, compared to between 5 and 10 percent of the general population. Another study estimated that homosexual men are nearly ten times more likely to use heroin 7 than their heterosexual counterparts. Clearly, there are circumstances affecting this minority group and causing them to experience addiction at elevated rates.

According to a theory called the minority stress model,7 the experience of lifelong discrimination, victimization and harassment in a hostile, intolerant society is a large contributor to many of the health risks of minority groups. The Meyer minority stress model applies this theory to addiction in the LGBT community in particular. The model suggests that not only do these individuals experience discrimination, but being persecuted by their own culture leads to expectations of rejection, internalized homophobia and elevated instances of resorting to self-destructive coping processes, including substance abuse. However, the experience of minority stress also encompasses persecution at one’s workplace, lack of relationship recognition and healthcare that’s often inconsiderate of the needs specific to LGBT individuals.

Unfortunately, it’s been found that members of the LGBT community are often unlikely to seek treatment for substance abuse disorders for reasons which include being stigmatized for addiction when one is already stigmatized for homosexuality as well as perceptions of cultural incompetence 8 and insufficient care for LGBT addicts. Additionally, the targeted marketing of alcohol and tobacco companies have exploited the fact that one of the few places where LGBT individuals feel free to be themselves is in certain bars and clubs, making it more likely for such individuals to abuse alcohol since they’re likely to frequent places where they feel accepted and comfortable.

Find Freedom from Addiction at Michael’s House

Although substance abuse and addiction represent a huge problem for the LGBT community, there are more and more treatment facilities offering programming specific for sexual minorities. In particular, these focused treatment tracks help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals build confidence, overcome discrimination and intolerance as well as assisting them in the development of mental, emotional and physical wellness. For members of the LGBT community as well as anyone else suffering from chemical dependence, seeking professional help allows you to identify and overcome many of the underlying issues that contributed to your substance abuse in the first place. In short, one must treat the problem at its root in order to solve it. Toward that end, Michael’s House offers LGBT-friendly treatment in an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance. Call us today for more information about our LGBT track and all the types of treatment that we offer.