Creating Safe Spaces for LGBTQ Individuals in Recovery

Creating Safe Spaces for LGBTQ Individuals in Recovery

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals are at a much higher risk of developing substance abuse and mental health issues.1 In a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin also found that transgender adolescents are up to four times as likely to engage in substance abuse as the general population, and they are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts.2

Additionally, according to data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, adults who identified themselves as being lesbian, gay, or bisexual were more likely to use illicit drugs, smoke cigarettes, and to be current alcohol drinkers. Among straight and LGBTQ adults, LGBTQ individuals were also more likely to need substance abuse treatment.3

All this revealing data brings two major questions to mind:

  • Why does the LGBTQ community suffer from increased substance abuse and mental illness?
  • What can be done to prevent this and improve treatment for the LGBTQ community?

Factors that Influence LGBTQ Substance Abuse

There are several influential factors that increase the likelihood of an LGBTQ individual developing a substance abuse disorder or mental illness. They include:

  • Stress and trauma – LGBTQ individuals face incredible discrimination daily, leading to increased stress associated with those negative experiences. This stress drives many LGBTQ individuals to use drugs and alcohol to cope with the stigma and prejudice they experience. They also frequently face high rates of social rejection, emotional abuse, stigmatization, and sexual abuse or assault.
  • Lack of cultural competency – Many health care services, such as addiction treatment centers and hospitals, are not aware of or do not meet the specific needs of the LGBTQ population. In other cases, some institutions may even be hostile to those needs.
  • Victimization – Depression and victimization have both been linked to risky behaviors, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies, and many studies have shown that transgender students are some of the most vulnerable individuals in the school setting.2
  • Targeted marketing – Tobacco and alcohol companies have consistently targeted the LGBTQ community with marketing campaigns for addictive substances. In addition, bars and clubs are typically viewed as safe places for LGBTQ individuals to socialize, which increases their risk for developing addiction to drugs and alcohol.5,6

LGBTQ Addiction and Substance Abuse Treatment Statistics

Studies have only recently started including sexual minorities in substance abuse research, but the findings so far reveal a severe need for more LGBTQ addiction treatment programs in the U.S.

  • LGBTQ individuals who seek substance abuse treatment are more likely than heterosexuals to suffer from mental illness11
  • LGBTQ individuals are two to three times more likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual individuals12
  • 25 percent of LGBT people abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population.12
  • 20 percent to 30 percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population.13
  • Gay and transgender people smoke tobacco up to 200 percent more than their heterosexual and nontransgender peers.13
  • Gay men are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana than straight men.13
  • Gay men are 12.2 times more likely to use amphetamines than straight men.13
  • Gay men are 9.5 times more likely to use heroin than straight men.13
  • The 2015 NDSUH found LGBTQ adults were more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to have used illegal drugs in the past year.14

One study published by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality also highlighted the following statistics on LGBTQ discrimination:4

  • Of the individuals who identified as LGBTQ while in grades K-12, 78 percent of participants reported being harassed, with 35 percent citing physical assault and 12 percent citing sexual violence. 15 percent of LGBTQ individuals cited harassment that was so severe that it caused them to leave the school setting.
  • 47 percent of participants reported being fired, not hired, or being denied a promotion at work because of their sexual orientation.
  • 19 percent of participants reported having been refused an apartment or a home because of their gender identity and/or expression.
  • 53 percent of participants reported being verbally harassed and disrespected in a public place.
  • 46 percent of participants reported being uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
  • 57 percent of participants reported experiencing significant family rejection.

The Need for LGBTQ Substance Abuse Treatment in America

One 2009 study found that when compared to heterosexuals, a significantly higher rate of sexual minorities sought out substance abuse treatment and treatment for mental health problems.7 Surprisingly, there are still fewer LGBTQ addiction treatment programs in the U.S. than heterosexual ones.

According to Gallup, 5.1 percent of women and 3.9 percent of men in 2017 self-identified as LGBT, with the LGBT population seeing an overall increase of 4.5 percent in the U.S. 8 Despite the growing number of LGBTQ individuals in America, the need for high-quality LGBTQ addiction treatment programs in the U.S. goes largely unmet.

A 2007 study revealed that only 854 programs (11.8 percent of addiction treatment programs) reported by the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services claimed to offer specialized services for LGBTQ clients. Although those programs did not discriminate against LGBTQ clients, only 62 of them (7.3 percent) offered LGBTQ-specific addiction treatment programs.9

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    The Benefits of an LGBTQ Addiction Treatment Program

    Although research supports the idea that treatment outcomes are very similar for LGBTQ people who complete traditional addiction treatment programs and LGTBQ-specific programs,10 there are also many benefits to treatment programs that are specifically designed for LGBTQ individuals.

    Not only is LGBTQ substance abuse treatment more inclusive for clients, but it also addresses many of the unique issues that sexual minorities face. For example, an LGBTQ substance abuse program may provide:

    • Separate facilities for LGBTQ individuals
    • A social environment that is safe and supportive of the LGBTQ lifestyle
    • Staff members that understand and affirm LGBTQ addiction issues
    • Clinical treatment to address issues such as social rejection after coming out, emotional abuse, stigmatization, sexual abuse or assault, and self-hatred/homophobia
    • Treatment for co-occurring disorders like anxiety, depression, or PTSD
    • Treatment for health problems like HIV and Hepatitis C

    When compared to heterosexuals, higher rates of LGBTQ individuals suffer from trauma caused by stressful childhood experiences, family conflict, hate crimes, and discrimination at school and work.4 All of these factors strongly contribute to substance abuse issues, and as a result, should be addressed in LGBTQ substance abuse treatment.

    Many addiction treatment providers also lack the experience and knowledge needed to effectively address the issues of clients in LGBTQ substance abuse programs, which can have a big impact on treatment outcomes. Sexual minorities need to have access to qualified treatment providers that offer LGBTQ-specific services to receive effective treatment that encourages lasting results.

    LGBTQ Sober Living for Continued Sobriety

    When faced with the above factors, LGBTQ individuals may struggle to find sober living homes that meet their unique needs, address the challenges they face, and that are accepting of their lifestyle choices. This is a huge barrier that keeps many LGBTQ individuals from getting the treatment they need, further increasing the need for safe spaces for LGBTQ people in recovery.

    Addiction treatment programs and sober living houses for LGBTQ individuals should differ from those offered to the population that identifies as straight. This is because all individuals in recovery need to feel that their peers, sober coaches, and mentors understand the trauma and struggles they face in everyday life. Although all LGBTQ individuals have different life experiences, hold different beliefs, and all come from different backgrounds, these individuals are more likely to have faced many similar challenges regarding their substance abuse, trauma, and mental illness. Sober living programs designed with the LGBTQ community in mind provide a safe place where these experiences can be heard, understood, and respected.

    LGBTQ sober living programs should provide the following things:

    • A safe, comfortable living environment that is accepting and supportive of the LGBTQ lifestyle
    • Staff members that understand LGBTQ issues and have positive and supportive attitudes about the LGBTQ lifestyle
    • Recovery support resources that emphasize life skills, behavioral therapy, and coping skills to help clients manage internal stress and trauma
    • Family involvement to help heal old wounds and promote growth within the family unit
    • Peer accountability from other like-minded people in recovery

    Eudaimonia Recovery Homes is proud to provide one of very few LGBTQ sober living homes in the country. Located in Austin, Texas, our LGBTQ sober living program is designed to address the unique challenges and struggles LGBTQ men face in addiction recovery. Our staff operates with a trauma-informed lens that guides every aspect of recovery support services for LGBTQ individuals. This allows us to create a safe, supportive environment for LGBTQ men that promotes healing, personal growth, and lasting sobriety.

    For more information about our LGBTQ sober living home for men in Austin, Texas, please call our admissions team today.


    1. https://www.cdc.gov/msmhealth/substance-abuse.htm
    2. https://news.utexas.edu/2017/09/19/transgender-youths-vulnerable-to-threats
    3. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015/NSDUH-SexualOrientation-2015.htm
    4. http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf
    5. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/07/16/gays_and_smoking_how_tobacco_companies_target_queers.html
    6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222279/
    7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19682355
    8. https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx
    9. https://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgireferer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1204&context=gs_rp
    10. https://uic.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/social-and-health-service-use-and-treatment-outcomes-for-sexual-m
    11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4130569/
    12. https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ
    13. https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2012/03/pdf/lgbt_substance_abuse.pdf
    14. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/substance-use-suds-in-lgbt-populations
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