Pride Month Special: Alcoholism in the LGBTQ+ Community

By Steve Sarin 06/17/21

LGBTQ people are at increased risk for various behavioral health issues, including substance use disorder (SUD).

Image: 
Gay pride parade, focus on blonde woman holding pride poster with rainbow on face

When you think of the LGBTQ+ community, what's the first image that comes to mind? Was it an image or a Pride parade or a nightclub? Since we've been a visible community, we've been associated with drugs and alcohol. The namesake of the Stonewall riots, which launched the modern gay rights movement, is a bar in the Greenwich neighborhood of Manhattan. We are associated with the nightlife, and many of us also have a problem with substances. It's a topic that's not often discussed but needs to be brought into the open.

Statistics on the LGBTQ Community and Alcohol

Although society is far more accepting of gays and lesbians than during the preceding decades, it's not that way for everyone. People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning often face social stigma, discrimination, harassment and violence not encountered by people who identify as heterosexual. There's also still shame and guilt associated with sexual orientation. Drugs and alcohol provide an easy way to cope with—and forget about— the negative feelings some have about who they are. As a result, LGBTQ people are at increased risk for various behavioral health issues, including substance use disorder (SUD).

Data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) suggests people who identify as gay or lesbian are twice as likely as heterosexuals to suffer from alcohol addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents are 90 percent more likely to use alcohol and drugs than their heterosexual counterparts. The NSDUH also found that LGBTQ adults are more likely to engage in casual, binge and heavy alcohol use than their heterosexual counterparts.

In addition to LGBTQ adults, youth community members are also at a significantly higher risk than their straight peers. Almost forty-five percent of LGBTQ individuals between the ages of 18 and 28 reported binge drinking at least once in the past month. Another 10.2 percent engage in heavy alcohol use, defined as binge drinking at least five times in the past month.

Although alcohol addiction in the LGBTQ community has gained more awareness in recent years, it's still greatly under-treated.

Mental Health and the LGBTQ community

Looking at the data on mental health among LGBTQ-identified people in the U.S., the raw numbers are just staggering.

According to a 2020 study by The Trevor Project, 40 percent of LGBTQ youths considered suicide in the last year, and the number jumps to more than 50 percent for trans and nonbinary young people. According to SAGE, the largest and oldest nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of older LGBTQ adults, 53 percent of older adult LGBTQ people feel isolated and are twice as likely to live alone.

The COVID-19 pandemic poured gasoline on an already raging fire. Diseases of despair were at already-high levels in terms of addiction, depression, trauma, anxiety, isolation, and loneliness, but the pandemic only heightened preexisting mental health challenges.

My colleague and AspenRidge Recovery's Executive Clinical Director Dianna Sandoval spoke with NBC News earlier this year to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the LGBTQ community.

"We're already seeing higher levels of mental health challenges in the LGBT community being compounded with isolation," Sandoval said. "Because it's so difficult for folks to connect even to the small communities they've built for themselves, due to social distancing, there's an even greater distance between people in the LGBT community. Some people just don't feel that same sense of connection over Zoom."

Now, as vaccination rates climb and businesses reopen at full capacity, there's reason to hope the stresses may be reduced. Still, the fact remains that addiction and mental health are underdiagnosed and treated.

And let's be honest—alcohol and drugs can be fun. Night Circuit parties (think raves) are also nothing but dancing, drinks and drugs. Alcohol is an ingrained part of the gay community as well as the larger American culture. It's well known that some people use alcohol and drugs as an escape from reality. When your existence consists of disapproving parents or societal shaming, an escape seems deserved and warranted. But using substances as coping mechanisms is never healthy and can lead down the path to addiction.

If you or someone you know struggles with substance abuse, call AspenRidge Recovery at 855.281.5588 today or visit AspenRidgeRecovery.com. One of our client advocates will help you find the best treatment option for your situation, even if it isn't with us. We're experienced in treating members of the LGBTQ community and accept most insurance. We also have virtual outpatient programs accessible in multiple states. To learn more, visit ReachOnlineRecovery.com

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