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Pride Month: A Spotlight On Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ Community

8 minute read

No one can argue, 2020 has been a terrible year, one for the books. Deemed America’s worst year, the world has been put to a halt by a global pandemic (COVID-19), an economic crisis, soaring unemployment rates, violence due to racial injustice and political turmoil. 

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the nation, hundreds of thousands of people within various communities have either contracted the virus or died as a result. This is especially true for the LGBTQ community. 

Every year in June marks Pride Month, a celebration where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer individuals exercise and advance the recognition of their rights, and most importantly, express who they truly are. Unfortunately, this time of spirit, unity, and joy has been overshadowed by a much darker problem. 

Right now, it is as good as time as any to shed the spotlight on LGBTQ+ individuals, and the prevalent issues and unique challenges they continue to face. Recent economic and health care developments have sparked a national discussion on high rates of addiction and mental illness plaguing this community, and the demand for treatment as a result. 

At Footprints to Recovery, we recognize the ongoing need for substance abuse treatment during this time and are proud supporters of helping the LGBTQ community. 

Addiction in the LGBTQ Community: A Double-edged Sword

Addiction and mental illness don’t discriminate, they are diseases that continue to affect millions of individuals of all ages, races, sexual identities, gender, religion, and socioeconomic status. 

According to evidence-based research, there are 5.5 million people who identify as LGBTQ+ living in the United States. While our country has made progress in protecting the rights of these people, various factors still contribute to the higher rates of substance abuse and mental illness, especially within this community. 

Lack of acceptance is not the only reason for the use of drugs and alcohol. The LGBTQ community opposed to other populations is commonly left vulnerable to discrimination in all areas, including health care and the workplace. These stressors that sexual minorities face can also lead to a greater risk of harassment and violence. 

Social, self, and public stigma, which are overwhelming and extremely distressing for those who experience them, has contributed to high unemployment rates, and most importantly, cases of substance abuse and mental illness to skyrocket. 

LGBTQ Substance Abuse Rates: Why Are They Really Higher? 

While there are reasons mentioned above that explain how substance abuse rates for LGBTQ+ individuals are higher, defining the EXACT reasons why they are compared to the general population poses a great difficulty. 

Numerous studies conducted by counselors, advocates, and academicians in the field have attempted to answer this difficult question for years.  On the surface, why these rates are higher might seem obvious, but that isn’t always the case. However, what we do know for a fact is, statistically, people in LGBTQ communities are more than twice as likely to use alcohol and drugs as their heterosexual peers. 

Drugs and Alcohol Used For Socializing and Escapism  

A likely explanation for the high rates of substance abuse for LGTBQ youth is the association with this group and nightlife. Historically, many individuals in this group who commonly feel stigmatized turn to drugs and alcohol as a means to cope. 

Sometimes, there is no escape from that fear of rejection, and oftentimes substances can become an easy go-to for them to help regulate their emotions and escape from reality so to speak. 

Truth is, especially today, to protect themselves from homophobic and narrow-minded people, LGBTQ+ people tend to use safe havens as a remote destination. This is because gay bars or clubs with like-minded are usually the only places gay people feel safe. They are often an oasis of serenity amidst an intolerant society. A place where acceptance and love fill the room, but accessibility to drugs and alcohol is also in abundance. 

Treatment Barriers Within the LGBTQ Community

Stigma greatly hinders people from receiving the treatment that they need, thus, putting this minority group at higher risk for addiction. In other words, not being able to access the same treatment and resources as non-LGBTQ individuals further exacerbate behavioral health conditions. 

With the connection between LGBTQ and addiction clarified, it’s essential to look at what stops people within the LGBTQ+ community from seeking addiction treatment when they need it.  

Lack of social and financial support are huge contributing factors, as well as political obstacles as well. In addition to substance abuse, LGBTQ people are simultaneously facing unemployment, homelessness, food insecurity, and increased health issues. These include mental illness often due to bias and discrimination. They also face lack of insurance benefits. 

This is why, there is a huge gap between wanting to receive the addiction treatment needed, and actually receiving it.

Addressing the Problem Head-On: Knowledge is Power

While many steps have been taken to address inequality within the LGBTQ community, there are still many in this community who still face unequal healthcare due to a lack of understanding. As mentioned above, common barriers to addiction treatment in the LGBTQ community include a lack of cultural competence. This addresses the complexity of unique sexuality and gender identity issues, lack of support from family and friends, lack of education, etc. 

It’s important to remind people that homophobia is typically based on a lack of knowledge. Additionally, those who are unaccepting of others are usually just repeating the stereotypes and opinions they have been exposed to in their environment. In psychology, this is called behavioral observation. 

As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In this particular circumstance, no other quote rings more true. An effective way to help someone who may not accept the beliefs of gay and transgender individuals, for example, is to educate them on the topic.

Also, by remaining calm and collected when engaging in a conversation with someone who is unaccepting of others and by using logic, statistics, and facts when defending minority groups; you’ll likely push that individual one inch closer to becoming more tolerant. 

LGBTQ Substance Abuse Treatment 

Thanks to The Affordable Care Act (ACA), people can now receive the addiction treatment they need to have a high-quality and sober lifestyle. Within the ACA, three key provisions can help address the needs of LGBTQ individuals with behavioral health conditions, these include: 

  1. Has prohibited health care discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 
  2. Has provided more health coverage options, including expanded Medicaid. 
  3. It requires most plans, including Medicaid, plans to provide behavioral health services in parity with medical and surgical benefits.

For LGBTQ individuals, it is important that they find a treatment facility to not only understand their particular personal, social, and psychological challenges but also provide the support needed to help overcome other specific issues they may deal with during and after rehab. 

This is because, people who are sexual minorities often have trouble understanding and accepting their sexual orientation, which can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and isolation. 

One major negative effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged social isolation to a certain extent for safety reasons. The need to self-quarantine and isolate has caused loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

Being alone is very unhealthy for someone who already has a pre-existing mental illness or behavioral health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or other addictions. To cope with these feelings alcohol and drugs are commonly used.  

Unfortunately, being able to receive in-person addiction treatment hasn’t been accessible for those who need it. This can be an issue as care has been delayed for people who really need it at emergent times. 

LGBTQ Treatment Services Offered At Footprints to Recovery

At Footprints to Recovery, our multidisciplinary team of experienced clinicians is trained in working with LGBTQ individuals and facilitates programming. This includes staying up to date on the latest trends as well as staying abreast of the political climate.

It starts with our highly educated staff who are also trained in awareness of cultural competencies and apply them to our treatment modalities. Footprints also involve the family as much as is appropriate, and in some cases will help educate them on the matters that their loved ones are struggling with. 

Through a comprehensive treatment approach, each of our recovery plans is tailored to each patient’s needs and goals. Our addiction treatment programs such as inpatient and outpatient treatment, include medication management, individualized therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and relapse prevention. 

We Offer High-quality Patient-Centered Care

Footprints to Recovery embodies and has established a client-centered approach. This method fosters the notion that everyone has the capacity to fulfill his/her/own potential and experience growth and changes. 

Through this empathic and empowering approach, the clinical therapist can meet the patient where they are at while beginning the transition through the therapeutic process. Our integrated care model includes:

  • Trauma- Responsive
  • LGBTQ+ Inclusive
  • Health & Wellness

Here we focus on two LGBTQ-specific process groups, one which includes mental health and the other identity. 

Virtual Care: Telemedicine for Substance Abuse 

However, thanks to technology, telemedicine has played a big role in allowing people to reach out for help and receive the treatment that they need. At Footprints to Recovery, we believe that connecting with others is vital to the recovery process as a form of therapy

Therefore, we offer TeleHealth services to those who are not able to come in person. This offers a way for those seeking help to connect with others and talk about how they are feeling and what they are going through.  Self-help groups are now doing Zoom meetings.  

Research has shown encouraging improvement in care in emergency situations, and how quickly the recovery community has responded to adversity and adapted to meet the social needs of society.

Finding the Right LGBTQ Drug and Alcohol Treatment Facility

Finding the right LGBTQ treatment center is not a simple task. It is imperative that the chosen program has a deep understanding of the social and psychological difficulties of being LGBTQ and has the ability to provide adequate support for each individual.

At Footprints to Recovery, we believe that the key to finding the right rehab facility for addiction treatment is assessing if the place is knowledgeable on treating LGBTQ individuals first and foremost, and if your needs will be met. Some questions a prospective LGBTQ patient should ask is:

  1. Are there groups specifically for LGBTQ patients?
  2. Will transgender-identified patients be able to present as their gender of choice, and be addressed with pronouns of choice?
  3. Does the treatment center have programming that addresses sexual health in general and specific sexual health issues facing LGBTQ people in recovery?
  4. Are non-traditional family members welcome during family programming?

Footprints to Recovery is Here for the LGBTQ Community

For LGBTQ individuals or parents looking to help their loved ones with co-occurring disorders, there are many resources. These include self-help groups for related topics, as well help-line numbers they can call to get information on how to help their loved ones. Our team specializes in helping sexual minorities learn how to cope with their addiction and mental illness.

For those who need help with substance abuse and mental illness, we do not discriminate based on sexual orientation, age, gender, etc. We are an LGBTQ+ friendly rehab, who believes in education and raising awareness in the community about substance abuse and other matters surrounding sexual minority groups. 

With COVID-19, Footprints has been somewhat limited in doing public events, but to raise awareness our patients have requested that we make tie-dye t-shirts to wear.  You are not alone! We are always available to provide our services via our LGBTQ clinical track. 

Your journey to recovery begins here. To learn more about how we can help you or a loved one recover from addiction, contact us today!


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