Increasing Awareness of Substance Use Disorders in the LGBTQ+ Community

“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” - Harvey Milk

June is Pride Month, a time for celebrating and honoring the LGBTQ+ community and their rights. We at the Tigger House Foundation recognize the importance of educating our audience on how addiction impacts sexual minorities. Addiction has no limitations on who is impacted. It is vital to spread awareness of the challenges and risks faced by those in the LGBTQ+ community. Through equality and support for those struggling, we can help those who may be dealing with a SUD and their recovery journey. 

The risk of Substance Use Disorders is much higher for the  LGBTQ+ community. “People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) often face social stigma, discrimination, and other challenges not encountered by people who identify as heterosexual. They also face a greater risk of harassment and violence. As a result of these  and other stressors, sexual minorities are at increased risk for various behavioral health issues.”

 - National Institute on Drug Abuse 

Nobody should ever have to worry about being treated differently because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Our society must be one where everyone can enjoy their rights to the fullest extent possible. It is important for everyone to be aware that those in the LGBTQ+ community endure hardships based on how they identify. These hardships can cause people to feel like they have nowhere else to turn, which can lead to substance abuse and other harmful choices. Today we want to discuss some of the facts we know from research and the ways we can work together to help those in need. 

Each situation is different. Those in the LGBTQ+ community can oftentimes face the rejection of their families and even some members of society. These feelings of isolation and being unloved can lead to substance abuse and addiction. In a recent YouTube video about how addiction affects the LGBTQ community, we’re able to hear first-hand experiences from those who have struggled throughout their lives with substance use as a result of not feeling accepted. We know that we need human connection and acceptance in order to feel secure in ourselves. Those who struggle with SUD who do not have a support system behind them are more likely to feel isolated and struggle with mental health. 

Data supports that substance use in minority communities such as those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, are higher compared to people who report themselves to be heterosexual. (National Survey Release)  We must work to help those in the LGBTQ+community who are struggling with SUD, which starts with understanding why the rates are so high in these communities. In a 2019 report, we learned that 18.7 million people ages 18 or older have a substance use disorder in the United States. 

As reported by Healthline, we learn that “people who identify as gay or lesbian are more than twice as likely as those who identify as heterosexual to have severe alcohol or tobacco use disorder;” that “people who identify as bisexual are three times as likely to have a substance use disorder,” and that “those who are unsure how to identify their sexual identity, are five times as likely to have a substance use disorder than heterosexual people.” (Healthline) These are staggering statistics that we must be aware of so that we can continue to move toward helping those in need. 

Research shows that those in the LGBTQ+ who are struggling with SUD tend to have fears of fitting into a society that they may feel out of place with or disconnected from. We also learn in this research, that the young people in the LGBTQ+ community have a high potential for having a substance use disorder because substances can be viewed as ways to regulate emotions and combat feelings of rejection they may experience by their families and peers. In the same article, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker stated that “the pain associated with the social stigma of being LGBTQ+, of living in a culture that, for the most part, is homophobic and heterosexist, is traumatic.” 

The same article above reports that often when someone within this minority community feels unaccepted by their families and society, they gravitate toward situations and people that may not be healthy for them. Negative environments in tandem with negative influences can impact those who are in the LGBTQ+ that are already feeling low. They may begin to do things they never thought they would. Of course, all cases are different and each situation is unique. However, we must work toward equality and devoted support to those who are struggling with SUD while feeling alone.

How can we start? The best we can each do on an individual level is to continue supporting each other to the best of our abilities. It also begins with education. We all must be advocates and educate those around us. This is a worldwide effort that we all need to be a part of. Nobody should ever be ashamed or rejected for being born with their sexual orientation. 

Do you have anyone in your life who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community? Are you a member of the LGBTQ+ community? Whether you or someone you know is struggling with SUD, our Addiction Navigator is here to help with whatever you need. No matter where you or your loved one is emotionally, mentally, or physically we are here to support and provide a list of options so that you and your family can make the best choice together. If you are seeking immediate assistance, please contact our Addiction Navigator at help@tiggerhouse.org or 732.865.1559 

We also have our Student Alliance, which is a great tool for any high school student who may be struggling. Team Tigger, as well as community partners, act as trusted confidants and advisors to alliance members, thus providing guidance and direction in their own or their peers' struggles with addiction. To learn more about our Student Alliance and how you can join today, visit https://www.tiggerhouse.org/student-alliance 

In one of our recent blogs, we learn that human and social connections are like lifestyle medicine. Many studies show how human and social connection should be considered just as essential as physical exercise or eating healthy.  It’s been proven that connection lowers anxiety and depression, helps us regulate our emotions better, and leads to higher self-esteem and empathy. Whether you or someone you know needs some extra support, try to express your feelings to someone you trust or reach out to that person who may be struggling. Such simple gestures could mean the difference between life and death.

Not only should we continue to support everyone who needs it, but we should also be sure to prioritize those who fall into the minorities that are more susceptible to substance abuse. 

In a recent Forbes article, we learn some of the other ways we can help reach the core issue at hand and support those in the LGBTQ community: 

  • Educate yourself on the LGBTQ+ population
  • Raise awareness for others that June has been designated LGBTQ+ Pride Month by posting signs, sending memos or making announcements at regularly scheduled meetings. Consider mentioning some of the activities that are happening locally, nationally and worldwide
  • Lead by example
  • Speak out if someone uses offensive verbal comments, tells a disparaging joke about an LGBTQ+ person, or shows homophobia about another person. It’s important to let the person know that such actions are wrong 

Together, we are moving towards a world where nobody should feel the need to turn to substances due to isolation. Consistent education, advocacy, and support for anyone who needs it is how we will get there. Although Pride Month is coming to a close, we will forever continue all our efforts to support the LGBTQ+ community. Nobody is ever truly alone, in spite of their isolation. There is always someone who will help. If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction, we are here. We are all in this together, helping one person at a time. In the end, this all adds up to help end the opioid epidemic. Do not ever hesitate to reach out to us at help@tiggerhouse.org or 732.865.1559.