LGBT Addiction Treatment in a Discriminatory World

June 24, 2015
Where there is alcohol addiction or substance abuse, you will often find stress. As people try to cope with stressors using various means of self-medication, substance abuse can creep in and take hold. While most of us experience stress in life, those in the LGBT community typically experience more stress around discriminatory practices. We all know the story of the intolerant parent. However, there are many other stresses just below the radar for those outside the LGBT community, even those who are supportive of the LGBT community. Basically this supportive person from outside the LGBT community has no occasion to experience the systemic discrimination all around — discrimination in recognition of one’s partner relationships, in issues around death and inheritance, in insurance and health care, in employment, in housing.

Looking at cumulative data brings things into focus. According to,

It is currently legal in 29 states for gay and transgender individuals to be denied employment, fired, or discriminated against just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. A recent article by the Center for American Progress reported that 43 percent of gay and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced discrimination and harassment on the job.

If these numbers are surprising, it shows the degree to which LGBT discrimination can hide, so that even those who would help have no idea a problem exists.

This constant systemic pressure offers one possible context for evaluating reports showing that the LGBT community has disproportionately higher incidences of alcoholism and drug abuse. For example:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates the percentage of the LGBT community who abuse drugs or alcohol to be as high as 20 to 30 percent, compared to only nine percent of the general population.
  • More than half of gay men will encounter an issue with chemical dependency or addiction over the course of their lifetimes
  • Studies also show that gay men are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana, 9.5 times more likely to use heroin and 12.2 time more likely to use amphetamines than their heterosexual counterparts.

As may be expected, these disparities can be even more dramatic among teenagers. According to data reported bythe Young Adolescent Advocacy Project

  • LGBT teenagers are nearly 200 percent more likely than straight teens to use illicit substances such as drugs or alcohol, according to a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study.
  • 3% of LGBT students report feeling unsafe at their school because of their sexual orientation.
  • As many as 1 in 3 gay and lesbian youth have attempted suicide; a likelihood 2 — 3 times higher in LGBT than in heterosexual young people.

To alleviate the situation, it is often suggested that the larger community become more vigilant in trying to reduce discrimination in all its forms. While this is a good long-term strategy, cultural change moves much more slowly than human psychological time. It’s important to help LGBT individuals find coping strategies that are healthier than drinking and abusing drugs — and find them right away.

That’s why AAC, as a research-based dual diagnosis treatment center, weaves the development of coping strategies into our addiction treatment curriculum. Our Desert Hope and Greenhouse facilities, awarded the Human Rights Campaign’s LGBT Workplace Equality Award, provide a distinct tract for our LGBT clients, so that they can focus on coping strategies specific to whatever LGBT issues they may be facing. All our facilities follow these principles. This is a realistic approach, recognizing that for an LGBT individual who has been drawn into addiction as a way of coping with discrimination — the discrimination is not likely to go away. That person’s continued sobriety is going to rely on learning, practicing, and mastering solid coping strategies as he or she moves from addiction into recovery.

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