By Dolly Santos
Substance abuse issues impact the LGBT+ community in a way that is far more pervasive than it is for the non-LGBT+ community. Different factors make for a much higher rate of substance abuse among LGBT+ individuals than what occurs in almost all other demographics.
Studies have shown that up to 30% of the LGBT+ community struggles with substance abuse. Comparatively, only about 9% of the rest of the population faces addiction, and only 11% of the population over the age of twelve struggles with addiction. Many of these individuals turn to illicit substances as a coping mechanism for the discrimination and stigma that they face on a daily basis. Their lack of access to proper healthcare further impedes their ability to treat substance abuse issues in a way that is effective, straight to the point, and lasting.
The Underlying Issues Behind LGBT+ Substance Abuse
According to recent studies, gay men are 3.5 times more likely to abuse marijuana, 12.2 times more likely to abuse amphetamines, and 9.5 times more likely to abuse heroin than their heterosexual counterparts. These figures are shocking and leave many of us wondering why there is such a disparity. The statistics are almost the same for gay women, bisexuals, and transgender men and women.
One of the driving factors behind the high rate of substance abuse among the LGBT+ community is the discrimination that they face on a daily basis. This mistreatment stems from many sources, including, but not limited to:
- Unsupportive friends and family;
- Biased individuals in the general public;
- Laws (and law enforcement officials) that discriminate against individuals in the LGBT+ community;
- Biased landlords;
- Prejudiced healthcare providers; or
- Discriminatory employers.
The stress and anxiety that is associated with this daily discrimination, along with the lack of social acceptance, leads many folks in the LGBT+ community to turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. People in general don’t just start abusing drugs and alcohol. The vast majority of the time there is something underlying that causes them to turn to a substance that deep down inside they know will do more harm than good. A large part of this initial incentive for LGBT+ members to abuse drugs and alcohol is the stress, the failures, the prejudice, the discrimination, the hatred, and the lack of social acceptance that they feel on a day to day basis.
There is a second factor to this too that further exacerbates the issue. When a member of the LGBT+ community is struggling with substance abuse, the current healthcare system often impedes his or her ability to obtain proper treatment for such an addiction. Many facilities are not skilled enough to treat issues that pertain to this population. As such, even if a member of the community does seek help, they may not receive proper care, or they may not be accepted at all to begin with.
Finally, many studies have shown that marketing of tobacco and alcohol products is often aimed at the LGBT+ community or advertised in bars, restaurants, or clubs where these individuals go to socialize without fear of discrimination. The tobacco and alcohol corporations know that LGBT+ individuals are more prone to addiction than others, and they capitalize on this fact.
How to Reduce Instances of Substance Abuse in the LGBT+ Community
To help ameliorate the high rate of substance abuse in the LGBT+ community, it has been suggested that the following changes be implemented:
- Design cultural competency initiatives;
- Train healthcare professionals on the needs of the LGBT+ community;
- Pass laws that combat LGBT+ discrimination, including in the housing, marriage, healthcare, and employment arenas and areas;
- Publicly promote the health, well-being, and acceptance of individuals in this population.
We need to take a long, hard look at what our society can do to alleviate substance abuse within the LGBT+ community. We need to change not only the laws that disproportionately impact LGBT+ folks, we also need to change the hearts of so many in mainstream society that sit idly by while young LGBT+ kids struggle. It is a pervasive issue that is either overlooked or misattributed as a consequence of their lifestyle, so we must give a voice to those who need it most. By eliminating the false misconceptions surrounding the LGBT+ community and truly accepting everyone just as they are, we can better reach out to those struggling with addiction, and create a more loving world for everyone.
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