Options, Hope and Barriers for Addiction in the LGBTQ Community

By Kate Opalewski 07/01/16

LGBTQ Pride month ended yesterday—but the lack of specific addiction treatment deserves more attention.

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LGBTQ Addiction: Continuing Pride Month Talks
Gay bars are central to gay culture.

The way we celebrate LGBTQ Pride has evolved. We enjoy parades, art exhibits, music festivals, picnics, pride runs and parties in big cities and small towns nationwide. But the gay bar, where alcohol is abundant, is still a large part of the way LGBTQ people socialize.

Being treated as if your sexual orientation doesn’t or shouldn’t matter explains why many in the LGBTQ community succumb to substance abuse.

Traditionally, gay culture is synonymous with the culture of drinking. It’s hard to change our ways, especially when the gay bar is a safe haven (despite the horrific attack in Orlando recently) and still means so much to so many people. 

When we’re there, we drink because we’re happy, joyous and free. We drink because everybody else is doing it. We drink to nullify the pain. Some people drink because they just can’t stop. 

The LGBTQ community has made positive gains toward equality through the years, but the trauma experienced by many is frequent. Being treated as if your sexual orientation doesn’t or shouldn’t matter explains why many succumb to substance abuse. 

So while the month of June is a good time to advocate for issues facing the LGBTQ community, such as addiction, it’s important to continue the work moving forward. There is a lack of LGBTQ-specific addiction treatment programs that we would benefit from talking about. 

LGBTQ Addiction Needs More Attention

If we stop and think about what so many LGBTQ people have lived through, most are coping notably well. But one report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals that 20 to 30 percent of the LGBTQ community abuses substances, while only nine percent of the general population does. 

This begs the question, if addiction is indeed more prevalent in the LGBTQ community, then why are so few LGBTQ-inclusive or LGBTQ-friendly rehabilitation centers and treatment programs available? 

Some have argued the research is scarce and misleading. Many of the studies done on LGBTQ substance abuse during the 1970s and ‘80s were conducted at the gay bar. The results are said to be unrepresentative of the population. 

Is it more or less? How much does that really matter? The issue, regardless of the numbers, is that there are not enough quality resources available or research being done to help rehabilitation facilities provide better care.

Treatment Barriers for LGBTQ Addicts

Reports highlight the national studies of treatment programs across the U.S. identifying that only seven percent have any services tailored for LGBTQ populations.

America’s first (and most famous) gay rehab, Pride Institute in Minnesota, explains that traditional substance abuse treatment facilities are often not able to meet the needs of the LGBTQ community. 

The treatment staff of such facilities may have varying heterosexist assumptions regarding the clients who access their services, according to the institute. They may be uninformed about LGBTQ issues, insensitive to or antagonistic toward LGBTQ clients or believe that homosexuality causes substance abuse or can be changed by therapy. Other clients may have negative attitudes toward the LGBTQ client as well.

Many LGBTQ people decline healthcare for these reasons. It will be hard to break down barriers this way. In an effort to keep the LGBTQ health movement on track, there is a call for more LGBTQ people to participate in research protocols and openly talk with their healthcare providers. 

While progress is slow, steps are being taken. The Department of Health and Human Services issued final regulations in May to establish that Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act provides nondiscrimination protections in healthcare access and coverage for the entire LGBTQ community. 

What Options Do LGBTQ Addicts Have?

Most of the specialized gay rehab programs in the U.S. are offered at facilities in California. A few outside of California, such as the New Hope Recovery Center in Chicago and The Center in New York City, have a reputation for providing proper treatment, using clinical treatment models specifically designed to meet the needs of LGBTQ people. 

Those who live in less highly populated areas are at a disadvantage right now. With no easy access to a gay rehab or LGBTQ-specific treatment programs, they are visiting sober living homes or meeting in local community centers and church basements to offer support for one another. Skewed or not, research shows this isn’t enough. 

Some LGBTQ people choose to tackle addiction treatment programs in a traditional rehabilitation center near home, but hide their sexual orientation or gender identity, which can prevent true healing. 

Sober Ways to Socialize

Everyday life is challenging for many LGBTQ addicts as it is. No safe space or network of people available to help them maintain sobriety compounds the problem. A person’s continued sobriety hinges upon learning and practicing coping strategies. Committing to one of the hundreds of LGBTQ-oriented 12-step groups out there is critical to a successful recovery from addiction, as is support from their friendship circles, families and partners. 

That’s why Beau Mann created the social media app called Sober Grid, for example, for people who are battling addiction. It just so happens that Mann is gay. App users range from people in recovery to people who just want to be in a sober atmosphere with like-minded people. 

As the social scene for sober LGBTQ people is growing, you don’t have to give up your lifestyle as there are more alcohol-free options than ever, including sober bars, a new trend creating a different kind of buzz.  

Some Hope for LGBTQ Addicts

The National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies will hold their annual conference in partnership with the National Conference on Addiction Disorders in August in Downtown Denver, Colorado. 

Addiction treatment and behavioral healthcare professionals of all types will work together to “Take Recovery to New Heights.” Only NCAD provides the most extensive educational experience for professionals working in addiction prevention, treatment, aftercare, and management, with dedicated topics for clinicians, executives, and marketers. Let’s hope they take back to their offices what they learn and implement it so the LGBTQ community can start receiving more of the addiction treatment they deserve, and ultimately need, to survive.

Kate Opalewski is a freelance journalist turned digital content writer. One article at a time, she's on a mission to tackle the epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction that plagues the lives of so many Americans. As a social media newbie, she's ready to connect with others working in the addiction field, and carve her own little nook on the web. Still, having cut ties with her traditional journalism roots, Kate continues to consume and share news in real time.

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Kate Opalewski is a freelance journalist turned digital content writer. One article at a time, she's on a mission to tackle the epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction that plagues the lives of so many Americans. She is the features editor at Between The Lines, published by Michegan's Pridesource

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