Addressing addiction in the LGBTQ+ community

Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a serious disease that makes you feel unable to control your drug use. It can affect anyone.

However, addiction is most common in marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ community. 

Prevalence Of Addiction In The LGBTQ+ Community

Overall, members of the LGBTQ+ community face a much higher risk of drug use and addiction compared to the general public. 

For example, the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that:

  • 64.7% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults used alcohol in the past year, compared to 55.3% of the overall adult population
  • 37.6% of LGB adults used marijuana in the past year, compared to 16.2% of the overall adult population
  • 9% of LGB adults used heroin in the past year, compared to 3.8% of the overall adult population

Similarly, a study published in the Journal of School Health found that transgender students are 2.5 times more likely to use cocaine and methamphetamine and twice as likely to abuse prescription pain medications compared to their cisgender (non-transgender) peers. 

These higher rates of drug use lead to higher rates of drug addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 20 to 30% of LGBTQ+ individuals experience drug addiction, compared to only 9% of the general population. 

Why Is Addiction More Common In The LGBTQ+ Community?

Drug addiction always starts with drug abuse. People are more likely to abuse drugs when they experience stress. As a marginalized group, the LGBTQ+ community faces significant stressors, such as:

  • fears about coming out 
  • rejection and/or abuse from family members
  • shame or self-hatred due to abuse from others
  • workplace discrimination that can lead to job loss or lack of promotion
  • hate crimes, including physical and sexual assault

These challenges can cause serious mental health issues, including depressionanxiety, and suicidal thoughts. To cope, many LGBTQ+ people turn to alcohol or other drugs. This type of self-medication usually leads to addiction.

What Recovery Challenges Does The LGBTQ+ Community Face?

When seeking addiction treatment, members of the LGBTQ+ community face some unique challenges, including:

Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

As mentioned above, many LGBTQ+ people experience mental health disorders due to discrimination and other stressors. 

If they try to treat their drug addictions without also treating their co-occurring mental health disorder(s), they’re likely to relapse (start using drugs again). 

Discrimination From Health Care Providers

Many LGBTQ individuals fear that their addiction treatment providers will judge or mistreat them. This fear may prevent them from seeking treatment in the first place.

Moreover, even if a treatment provider doesn’t discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, they might not understand the unique challenges LGBTQ+ people face, such as homophobia, transphobia, and family issues. 

In many cases, these issues contribute to drug abuse and addiction. Thus, if they aren’t addressed during treatment, the patient faces a high risk of relapse. 

Improper Housing

Some residential treatment centers deny transgender individuals from living with people who share their gender identity. 

In other words, a transgender woman may be forced to live in a residential facility for men, or vice versa. This situation can cause extreme discomfort and threaten the trangender person’s safety.

Similarly, staff at residential centers may not know how to administer or monitor hormone use in transgender people undergoing hormone therapy. Without proper access to hormones, a transgender person may experience serious mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts.

Addiction Treatment Options For The LGBTQ+ Community

Due to the above challenges, most LGBTQ+ people have a harder time finding addiction treatment compared to the general population. Fortunately, many addiction treatment centers have started offering programs designed specifically for LGBTQ+ people.

These programs are run by health care providers who understand the complex needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

For example, due to the high rates of mental illness among the community, most LGBTQ+-specific programs offer dual diagnosis treatment. This type of treatment addresses other mental health issues that occur alongside drug addiction. 

Inpatient/Outpatient Care

Like traditional addiction treatment programs, LGBTQ+-specific programs offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment is recommended for people with moderate to severe addictions, while outpatient programs may work for those with milder addictions and strong support systems at home. 


Whether inpatient or outpatient, an LGBTQ+-specific-program will include therapy to help you recover from drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and any co-occurring mental health concerns. 

Your therapist can also teach you coping skills to deal with stressful or traumatic experiences surrounding your LGBTQ+ identity. 

Other Treatment Services

Along with therapy, your treatment plan may include services such as:

  • medical detox, where doctors will help you safely stop using drugs
  • medication-assisted treatment, where you’ll receive medications that help you recover from addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or opioids 
  • support groups, where you can connect with other LGBTQ+ people recovering from drug addiction

Amy Matton is a content writer for Ark Behavioral Health. She strives to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and other mental health conditions.

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