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Improving Addiction Resources for the LGBTQ Community

June 28, 2019

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How can we help our LGBTQ loved ones who are suffering from addiction?

This pride month, Addiction Policy Forum demonstrates our support for the LGBTQ community—especially those impacted by substance use disorder— by raising awareness about the critical need for more treatment and recovery services for LGBTQ patients.

Although acceptance for LGBTQ people is seemingly improving, difficult social conditions and a lack of resources geared toward this community has led to troubling mental health outcomes — LGBTQ people are at a higher risk for substance use disorders and particularly vulnerable to mental health crises and suicide.

We know that stressful events early in life — such as exposure to violence, physical or sexual abuse, or household dysfunction — can have a significant negative impact on a person’s mental and physical health. In a study published in 2010, researchers found that people who experienced five or more of these early stressful events — called adverse childhood experiences or ACEs — were 7 to 10 times more likely to report using illicit drugs or struggling with addiction. People in minority groups may experience additional stressors related to discrimination. The minority stress model suggests that there are chronic stressors unique to minority groups, which are responsible for the health disparities between people in the LGBTQ community and people outside of it. The stressors are typically socially-based and can take the form of harassment, bullying, or other forms of mistreatment.

Access to appropriate treatment

Addiction treatment needs to be personalized for each patient based on their specific needs, language, and culture. There are culturally appropriate treatment programs and tracks geared towards the needs of specific populations, such as pregnant and postpartum women, women, and youth. Specialized treatment for LGBTQ people also addresses the challenges of living in a society that is not always accepting and supportive of this community. Despite the fact that such care has been shown to be effective, options are scarce in the US. Filling this gap for LGBTQ patients needs to be prioritized by the providers, policymakers, researchers, and advocates working hard to improve our country’s response to addiction.

Members of the LGBTQ community are also more likely to be low-income compared to heterosexual people, which can act as an additional barrier to accessing treatment.

Stigma also plays a role in the quality of care that LGBTQ people are able to access. Treatment providers in various health care settings, including physicians and counselors, can have implicit and explicit biases against LGBTQ patients that impact the quality of care delivered. The discrimination that LGBTQ people experience, or even the anticipation of stigma, can cause patients to delay or avoid treatment for many different health conditions, including substance use disorder. Many health care providers want to improve treatment for LGBTQ patients but need the tools and training to do so effectively.

How can we help?

We need more research on LGBTQ patients and substance use disorders to determine which treatment interventions are most effective for this community. In the meantime, we need to increase access to specialized treatment and focus on bolstering prevention interventions for LGBTQ youth. Because 90% of Americans with a substance use disorder began using substances before the age of 18, preventing substance use among youth is a crucial component of addressing addiction among all patient populations. It is important to empower educators, families and providers with tools to support youth in minority groups who are dealing with the added stressors of discrimination, which can increase their risk for early substance use and addiction. A 2018 study found that, for transgender youth, a feeling of school-belonging may be an integral part of preventing drug use. Across the United States, anti-bullying policies have been effective in reducing the risk of a student being harrassed. Family support and involvement can also play a key role in supporting prevention, treatment, and recovery.

Resources for LGBTQ patients and families

For LGBTQ loved ones in crisis, visit the Trevor Project online or text/call 1-866-488-7386, or visit Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays’ (PFLAG) hotlines resource page. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and The Human Rights Campaign also have a guide to preventing substance misuse and substance use disorder for LGBTQ teens and their families.

History of Pride Month

Each year in June, communities across the United States celebrate Pride Month. Recognized in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic series of demonstrations against the persecution of the LGBTQ community in New York City. Pride is an opportunity to show love and support for our friends, family, and neighbors in the LGBTQ community and to honor the contributions of LGBTQ people to the arts, sciences, civil rights, politics, and beyond.

‘LGBTQ’ is an umbrella term used to describe a group of sexual orientations and gender identities. The L, G, and B in LGBTQ refer to sexual orientation and stand for lesbian, gay and bisexual. The T in LGBTQ stands for transgender, a group of gender identities or gender expressions. People who are transgender (or trans) do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. The Q stands for queer - although it used to be used as a derogatory term, it is now an affirming word that many people in the LGBTQ community use to identify themselves, especially when they find other labels restrictive.

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