Stigma, Addiction, and Mental Health within the LGBTQ Community
“Like racism and all forms of prejudice, bigotry against LGBTQ people is a deadly carcinogen. We are pitted against each other in order to keep us from seeing each other as allies. Genuine bonds of solidarity can be forged between people who respect each other’s differences and are willing to fight their enemy together. We are the class that does the work of the world, and can revolutionize it. We can win true liberation.”
Individuals who identify as LGBTQ are more at risk for substance use and mental health disorders compared to the heterosexual cis community. As we dive deep into LGBTQ Pride Month, it is important to honor this minority community and gain a deeper understanding of why these individuals are at a higher risk for addiction and mental health concerns. We want to eliminate the stigma associated with addiction and mental health in this special community, and we want to break down the barriers to entering treatment.
LGBTQ Pride Month is celebrated every June in honor of the 1969 Stonewall riots. The Stonewall riots took place in New York after the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village. This raid sparked a six-day violent protest between the community and law enforcement and catalyzed gay rights across the globe. As with many minorities, the LGBTQ community is marginalized and stigmatized and often discriminated against, causing this community stress and anxiety. In recent years, we have made giant steps forward in terms of equal rights for the LGBTQ population, but there is still enormous progress to be made as we move forward and eliminate the stigma.
Taking a look at the statistics
- Among all U.S. adults aged 18 and over, 96.6% identify as straight, 1.6% as gay or lesbian, 0.7% as bisexual, and the remaining 1.1% as “something else.”
- 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation.
- An estimated 20-30% of LGBT individuals abuse substances, compared to about 9% of the general population. 25% of LGBT individuals abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population.
- Approximately 8 percent of LGBT individuals and nearly 27 percent of transgender individuals report being denied needed health care outright.
- More than 1 in 5 LGBT individuals reported withholding information about their sexual practices from their doctor or another health care professional.
- LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts, and engage in self-harm than straight youths.
- LGBTQ individuals are almost three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder.
- The LGBTQ community is at a higher risk for suicide because they lack peer support and face harassment, mental health conditions, and substance abuse.
- Compared with heterosexual men, gay and bisexual men had a significantly higher prevalence of lifetime full syndrome bulimia, subclinical bulimia, and any subclinical eating disorder.
- 25% of LGBT people abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population.
- An estimated 20-30% of LGBTQ people abuse substances, compared to about 9% of the general population.
- The LGBT community is at a higher risk of bullying and has even been the center points for violent attacks.
Why are substance abuse and mental health disorders so much higher in the LGBTQ population?
- Stress: The LGBTQ community and other minority communities are under constant stress and tension. Our society does not view them as equal, and as a result, they are continuously enduring social prejudice. Whether it is in public, in the workplace, in relationships, in their family, or within the political system, the LGBTQ community struggles with being seen and heard. Often, their family members and close friends will disown them because of their sexual orientation. This community is at risk of loneliness, stress, and discrimination, and as a result, they are more likely to use alcohol and drugs as a way to cope with their feelings. Drowning out rejection, sorrow, and depression with alcohol or heroin can be a temporary unhealthy Band-Aid to relieve their internal pain. With increasing use, this can turn into a habit, which can quickly snowball into an addiction.
- Stigma: The stigma associated with identifying, as LGBTQ, is unfortunately still very real and powerful. This community is often brutalized, isolated, and harmed simply because of how they choose to identify with their sexuality. The stigma associated with addiction and mental illness is still prominent today. When a member of the LGBTQ community is struggling with depression or an opioid use disorder, the stigma rises exponentially, putting this community at risk of even more rejection, isolation, low self-esteem, and physical threats of violence.
- Limited access to treatment: Unfortunately, many therapists and treatment centers are not aware of the specific issues that the LGBTQ community faces. Nor can they relate to this community for the following reasons: their cultural norms conflict with this community, they do not recognize this community is a high risk, and fail to look past the client’s gender and sexual orientation. As a result, members of the LGBTQ community are less likely to seek out treatment for their substance use and mental health disorders out of fear that they will experience discrimination, worsening stigma, and lack of being understood by their providers.
Resources for the LGBTQ community
- SAMHSA A Provider’s Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals
- The Trevor Project:
- SAMHSA Affordable Care Act Enrollment Assistance for LGBTQ Communities:
- GaL-AA (Gays and Lesbians in AA):
Breaking the mold
As treatment providers and mental health specialists, we can do better. We can educate ourselves about the LGBTQ community and try to understand their views, opinions, and internal struggles. We can learn the proper vocabulary and erase the hateful jargon that is often used to stigmatize this population. We can create LGBTQ, specialized treatment programs that are inclusive, empowering, and educational for this population.
If you are part of the LGBTQ community and are struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, we want to help you. We at Quest2Recovery, want to treat you, the individual, and not just your disorder. We want to break the mold, set the standard, and be role models for the rest of the addiction treatment industry. We want to invite you to seek help in a compassionate, non-judgmental environment.