Helping a LGBT Person Cope with Addiction

2 min read · 3 sections

Substance abuse and addiction are important issues that affect thousands of people within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) community across the United States. 

Accumulating evidence shows that individuals who identify as sexual minorities have higher rates of cigarette smoking and binge drinking and are more than twice as likely to use illicit drugs when compared to their heterosexual counterparts.1 These individuals are also more likely to have substance use disorders and to be in need of substance abuse treatment

How Can You Help an LGBTQ Person Cope with Addiction?

Provide Support

Whether or not a member of the LGBTQ community receives support for their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is one of the primary influences on substance use and abuse. Study findings indicate that experiencing more reactions of rejection (to the disclosure of one’s minority sexual identity) is associated with greater alcohol or drug use.2 

Other research has shown that LGBTQ individuals whose family provides acceptance and support are less likely to have substance abuse problems with drugs or alcohol.3-4

Refer Them to a Specialized Treatment Program

Like anyone else suffering from addiction, LGBTQ individuals need to participate in a substance abuse treatment program. However, members of the LGBTQ community with substance abuse problems need to be treated by addiction specialists that understand their personal, social, and psychological needs. 

In addition to the treatment of their addiction, a LGTBQ program should also have unique features that include:5 

  • Help coping with issues such as discrimination, prejudice, coming out, family rejection, lack of social support, stigma, minority stress, abuse, and harassment.
  • Treatment of co-occurring mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
  • Addressing the mistrust of healthcare providers within transgender community. 
  • Management of any hormonal treatments during rehab therapies.
  • A separate unit or facility that is welcoming to those identifying as a sexual minority. 
  • Specialized treatment modalities for different substances and addictions.
  • Safe and supportive treatment environment (including LGBTQ affirming staff).

Treatment Options

Studies show that LGBTQ-specific programs are more effective at treating substance abuse in these individuals because they address unique issues that are often overlooked in traditional programs.6 

Interviews with LGBTQ individuals after treatment indicate that these types of specialized programs are overwhelmingly preferred over standard treatment programs.7 Unfortunately, despite the high rate of LGTBQ individuals seeking treatment, there are surprisingly few programs specifically geared toward treating LGBTQ patients.8-9 

It is therefore important that you research the location and availability of such programs so that you can refer your loved one to a professional rehab facility that provides this type of specialized care.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Sexual Orientation and Estimates of Adult Substance Use and Mental Health: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  2. Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E.W., & Hunter, J. (2009). Disclosure of sexual orientation and subsequent substance use and abuse among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: critical role of disclosure reactions. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23(1), 175-184.
  3. Ryan, C., Russell, S.T., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205-213.
  4. Padilla, Y.C., Crisp, C., & Rew, D.L. (2010). Parental acceptance and illegal drug use among gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents: results from a national survey. Social Work, 55(3), 265-275.
  5. Rowan, N. L., Jenkins, D. A., & Parks, C. A. (2013). What is valued in gay and lesbian specific alcohol and other drug treatment? Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 25(1), 56–76.
  6. Hicks, D. (2000). The importance of specialized treatment programs for lesbian and gay patients. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 3(3–4), 81–94.
  7. Lyons, T., Shannon, K., Pierre, L., Small, W., Krüsi, A., & Kerr, T. (2015). A qualitative study of transgender individuals’ experiences in residential addiction treatment settings: Stigma and inclusivity. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 10, 17–22.
  8. Grella, C. E., Greenwell, L., Mays, V. M., & Cochran, S. D. (2009). Influence of gender, sexual orientation, and need on treatment utilization for substance use and mental disorders: Findings from the California Quality of Life Survey. BMC Psychiatry, 9, 52–62.
  9. Cochran, B. N., Peavy, N. M., & Robohm, J. S. (2007). Do specialized services exist for LGBT individuals seeking treatment for substance misuse? A study of available treatment programs. Substance Use and Misuse, 42(1), 161–176.
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