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Substance Abuse and the LGBTQ community

Substance abuse is a widespread issue among teens and adults in the US, but the problem is especially pronounced in the LGBTQ community. The social stigma, discrimination, mental illness, and other stressors that members of this community experience can greatly increase the risk of developing a substance abuse disorder.

Research in 2018 found that 9% of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer had abused opioids recently, compared with 3.8% of the overall population. 12.4% of members of the LGBTQ community reported having an alcohol abuse disorder, compared to 10.1% of the general population.

Several factors are responsible for the prevalence of substance abuse in the LGBTQ community. Here are a few of the issues causing harm in this community:

Social Stigma and Discrimination

Social stigma and discrimination cause an increase in stress. Without access to good mental healthcare and without healthy coping mechanisms, many people under a large amount of stress turn to substance abuse.

There’s a long history of social stigma and discrimination against the LGBTQ community in the US. While activists have had some success in changing the general public’s attitude to be more positive toward this community in recent years, many community members still regularly face discrimination at work or school, among family, and in public spaces.

A 2020 study found that one-third of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals faced discrimination of some kind during the last year, and 3 in 5 transgender individuals experienced the same. 15% of LGBTQ Americans report delaying or postponing medical treatment due to discrimination, causing additional stress and mounting health problems. Additionally, a 2019 school climate survey found that 86% of LGBTQ youth report being harassed at school.

Mental Illness among the LGBTQ Community

The issues facing the LGBTQ community often exacerbate the problem of mental illness among members of the community. Members of this community are more than twice as likely to experience a mental illness compared to the general population, with the number rising to four times as likely for transgender individuals.

Many members of the LGBTQ community live with trauma from the harassment they’ve experienced, especially from a young age. Living with these mental illnesses drives many members of the community to abuse drugs or alcohol, which can often lead to an ongoing addiction.

Dangers of Substance Abuse

Many people begin using drugs and alcohol to cope with stress because it’s a habit that has been normalized among many adults. Because it’s so common, many people don’t realize the negative effects and the risk of becoming dependent until an addiction has already formed.

To keep people healthy, it’s important to spread awareness of the dangers of substance abuse. Here are some common issues caused by frequent use of drugs or alcohol:

Increased Mental Illness Symptoms

While many people turn to drugs or alcohol to manage the symptoms of their mental illness, these substances provide only momentary relief, followed by an increase in mental illness symptoms after the effects of the substance have worn off.

Alcohol and drugs create a sense of happiness, calm, or euphoria by impacting the pleasure chemicals in your brain. Unfortunately, after the effects have worn off, your brain struggles to produce any of these chemicals on its own because it learns to expect the help of the substances.

Most drugs and alcohol also negatively impact sleep, causing insomnia or low-quality sleep. Inadequate sleep also exacerbates mental illness symptoms. According to the CDC, individuals getting less than 6 hours of high-quality sleep each night are more than 2.5 times as likely to experience frequent mental distress than those getting over 6 hours each night.


Getting the proper vitamins and nutrients is essential to maintaining your health. However, substance abuse makes it very difficult to get all the nutrients you need. Alcohol is high in calories, so many people who drink high volumes of alcohol don’t eat enough calories from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. Alcohol also depletes your body of vitamins, causing an even greater need for a healthy diet. The result for heavy alcohol drinkers is often malnourishment.

Opioids, stimulants, and other illicit substances cause impaired judgment. This leads people using these substances to make poor choices, including choices related to diet. It’s common for frequent drug users to forget to eat enough or eat only junk food.

Physical Health Issues and Increased Risk of Death

Frequent use of drugs or alcohol increases your risk of many types of cancer. Alcohol also can also cause heart disease, liver failure, digestive issues, and a weakened immune system. All of these health issues lower a person’s life expectancy significantly. One of the biggest dangers of opioids is the risk of accidental overdose. In 2020, there were 68,630 opioid overdose deaths in the US.

Social and Professional Issues

Addictions to drugs or alcohol can cause numerous problems at work, among friends, and with family. While under the influence of these substances, many people make poor choices. Their work performance can suffer, they may forget to show up for commitments, and they may be more irritable around loved ones.

Many people have lost jobs and significant relationships due to poor behavior caused by addiction. It’s common for people in the midst of an addiction to not realize their behavior has changed, making it difficult to recognize when the problem has started affecting those around them.

When to Get Help

If you or someone you love is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, the sooner you seek treatment, the better. If you’re worried about a friend or family member’s use of drugs or alcohol, speak with them with compassion, and encourage them to find the support they need to achieve a substance-free life.

There are multiple treatment options for substance abuse disorders, and the best fit depends on each individual’s circumstances. Some people benefit from attending meetings through 12-step programs, and others see the best results receiving treatment through an outpatient program.

In some cases, attending an addiction treatment and rehabilitation program is the best option for getting your life back on track and breaking the cycle of addiction. Jackson House Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center has treatment options for anyone needing supportive, communal, and personalized addiction treatment. Contact Jackson House to discuss your treatment needs.

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