Why Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ+ Community Needs to be Addressed

Substance abuse is a widespread problem in society, but studies have shown that sexual minorities are at a greater risk. Read on to find out more…

Numerous studies have shown that substance use is a significant problem amongst the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. From heroin to cannabis, through to opioids and alcohol, statistics show that the risks are higher for people in a sexual minority to be concerned in the production of drugs and their general consumption.

But, why is this the case, and is it too late to change these deep-seated issues? In this article, we’ll discuss some studies surrounding substance abuse in the LGBTQ+ community and argue why the problem needs to be addressed.


Studies That Support increased substance Use in LGBTQ+ Communities

According to Addiction Center, an estimated 20 to 30 per cent of the LGBTQ community abuses substances, compared to about 9 per cent of the overall population. The study argues that ‘this is due in part to a number of societally imposed obstacles that they face, often on a daily basis, that those who identify as heterosexual typically don’t.’

Another study, published by the Journal of Health, found that transgender students are 2.5 times more likely to use Cocaine or Meth, and twice as likely to abuse prescription medications, such as prescription Opioids or Benzodiazepines.

In addition to ‘hard drugs’, alcohol remains a constant problem. One group of researchers found that people who identified as being lesbian or gay were more than twice as likely as people who identified as heterosexual to have a “severe” alcohol or tobacco use disorder, while people who identified as bisexual were three times as likely.


Why Are Members of the LGBT+ Communities Taking Illicit Drugs?

The statistics may illustrate how prevalent substance abuse is among the LGBTQ+ community, but, to fully comprehend why the issue needs to be addressed, it’s important first to understand why members of sexual minorities are taking these illicit drugs. For context, these reasons could include:


1.     Party Culture

High levels of drug abuse and drug addiction are common among the LGBTQ+ nightclub scenes. Like with any other societal groups, many individuals use recreational drugs to get ‘high’ while on a night out.

What’s more, the use of drugs in chemsex has been well-documented as a growing in popularity, most notably amongst gay men. Chemsex refers particularly to the use of psychoactive drugs and poses several potential dangers, such as unsafe sex and the use of injection-related infections.


2.      Escapism

Mental health problems such as depression, self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, but they’re more common among people who are LGBTQ+. Substances, therefore, are often used as a form of escapism or a way to self-medicate, to help temporarily numb uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, anger, or fear.


3.     Pressure to Fit In

The pressure to ‘fit into society’ may lead to many sexual minorities living ‘closeted lives’. The physiological toll of keeping in a sexual secret can be detrimental to one’s mental health. So, members of the LGBTQ+ community are turning to addictive substances to deal with feelings of anxiety or loneliness due to negative stigma and discrimination.


Why is it Important to Address Substance Use in LGBTQ+ Communities?


Sexually Transmitted Diseases

As touched upon when discussing chemsex, drugs can have a dramatic impact on peoples’ sexual health. The use of illicit drugs can lead to unsafe sex, thus increasing the chances of catching a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

STDs have been rising among gay and bisexual men, with increases in syphilis being widespread. HIV remains more common in homosexual males, and though patients can live a long and healthy life, and symptoms of HIV can be controlled, there is still no cure and the STI can have severe mental effects, as well as physical.

Lesbian and bisexual women aren’t safe from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) either, with women most likely to catch STIs such as herpes, genital warts and chlamydia when exchanging bodily fluids.


Sexual Assault

As a community, LGBTQ+ people face much higher rates of poverty, stigma, and discrimination, putting them at a greater risk of sexual assault. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP) estimates that nearly one in ten LGBTQ+ survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) have experienced sexual assault from those partners. In addition to this, non-partner discriminatory sexual assaults are on the rise.


How Can Substance Use Be Addressed Amongst the LGBTQ+ Communities?

In this article, we’ve discussed some of the statistics and studies surrounding substance abuse in LGBTQ+ communities. We’ve also provided some reasons as to why individuals might take these addictive substances.

As you can see, substance abuse amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer communities is common. But, there are several reasons to account for the stark differences in overall use between sexual minorities and heterosexual groups.

To solve the problem, more education on the matter is needed, and a wider discussion needs to be had amongst all members of society. Sexual health education and training shouldn’t be bound to schools and healthcare buildings, but be integrated into other parts of society, whether that be throughout an individual’s career or later in life.

It’s important not to see this substance abuse issue as a separate issue, but instead as a societal issue that requires the cooperation of everyone to find alternate solutions.


Photo credits:

Photo 1:Markus Spiske from Pixabay

Photo 2: Anthony DELANOIX via Unsplash

Photo 3: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash