10th January 2018, Resort 12 team

Addiction in the LGBT+ Community: ten statistics everyone should know

It is well-known anecdotally that substance misuse is rife in the LGBT+ community. But, do the statistics back the anecdotes up?

We’ve all heard anecdotal evidence of social stigma, bullying and other stressors causing unprecedented rates of substance abuse and addiction in the LGBT+ community. While social scientists are still in the early stages of research into these issues, there are some statistics available that everyone needs to know about substance abuse and addiction in our community.

1. Members of a “Sexual Minority” are more than twice as likely to use drugs as the general population

2015 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (USA) found that among adults who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, 39.1% had used an illegal drug in the past year, as compared to 17.1% of heterosexual respondents. With double the rates of drug use, we can expect that rates of drug abuse and addiction are also disproportionately high among members of our community. We can assume that part of the problem is club culture, but it’s safe to assume that trauma is also a trigger here.

2. Rates of Binge Drinking Among Gay Men and Women are Nearly Double their Heterosexual Counterparts

A UK survey conducted by Part of the Picture found that rates of binge drinking among lesbian women were almost double those of their straight counterparts (29% to 15%), and that a similar gap existed among men (34% to 19%). The survey also found that 16% of LGBT+ people drank at levels that put them in danger of dependency, while American surveys found that a mere 4% of the heterosexual population drank at a similar rate.

3. The Problems Start Early: LGBT+ Adolescents Are 90% More Likely to Use Substances Than Their Heterosexual Peers

In “Sexual orientation and adolescent substance use: a meta-analysis and methodological review” a team of researchers discovered this information, along with finding that substance use was even higher among lesbian and Bisexual youth.

4. Gay and Bisexual Men are 12.2 Times More Likely to Use Amphetamines Than Heterosexual Men

This statistic was unearthed by in the research for the book “Unequal Opportunity: Health Disparities Affecting Gay and Bisexual Men in the United States.” Clearly, widespread use of these incredibly addictive and damaging drugs is driving a massive health crisis within our community.

5. Gay and Bisexual Men are 9.5 Times More Likely to Use Heroin Than Their Heterosexual Peers

The authors of “Unequal Opportunity” also uncovered this alarming statistic, which when coupled with the risk of disease transmission through intravenous drug use, is doubly alarming.

6. 30% of LGBT+ People Report Abuse of Drugs or Alcohol , Compared to 9% of the General Population

The Center for American Progress reports this, along with the finding that “the stress that comes with daily battles with discrimination and stigma is a principal driver of these higher rates of substance abuse.”

7. 26% of Respondents to a National Transgender Health Survey Had Abused Drugs and Alcohol in Response to Rejection by Their Families

The respondents to this CUNY study noted a direct link between feelings of rejection after coming out with depression, attempts at suicide, and abuse of drugs and alcohol.

8. 42% of Transgendered People Reported Verbal or Physical Abuse , or Denial of Equal Treatment When Visiting Doctors

While this statistic, from a Reuters report in 2015 is not directly linked to substance abuse, it shows that real barriers to treatment exist for members of our community. And when one considers that the majority of respondents were “young, white, college-educated people with jobs and private health insurance”, one can only wonder about the treatment received by minorities and the economically marginalized.

9. “Addiction treatment programs offering specialized groups for gay and bisexual men showed better outcomes for those clients compared to gay and bisexual men in non – specialized programs”

This is the finding of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and while it is difficult to find exact numbers on treatment outcomes, all available research indicates that specialized programs for members of sexual minorities drastically improve treatment outcomes.

10. Just 7.3% of US Treatment Centers Offer Specialized Programs for LGBT+ Clients

A 2011 academic study found this out, as well as the fact that only about 1.5% of all treatment centers were specifically tailored to the LGBT+ community, and that over half of these were located in either California or New York (“The Need for Specialized Programs for LGBT Individuals in Substance Abuse Treatment” by Erin E. Mooney)

What We Can Learn From These Statistics

Our first takeaway from all of these stats is the undeniable fact that members of our community are at far greater risk for problems of substance abuse and addiction than the general population. A part of the problem is certainly the bar and club culture that many LGBT+ people indulge in shortly after coming out. But we would insist that the greatest catalysts for these problems are the trauma, stress and discrimination that are almost universal for LGBT+ individuals. It is clear that these factors have combined to create a health crisis in our community. What can be done?

If we recognize that members of sexual minorities have unique life experiences including homophobia, transphobia, social isolation, family problems and bullying, it follows that these individuals will need programs that tailor treatment to overcoming these traumas. As a society, we need to not only give equal access to healthcare to all individuals, but also to create treatment models that offer the counselling needed to overcome these unique stresses and challenges.

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