If you or someone you know is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and is struggling with substance use disorder, help is available. LGBTQ-specific treatment groups and programming can help people get access to treatment, get sober, and live a thriving life in recovery.
Challenges of Substance Abuse in LGBTQ+ Life
Members of the LGBTQ+ community face unique and difficult challenges including homophobia or transphobia, family dysfunction, violence and social isolation.
LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience a drug or alcohol addiction at some point in their lifetime and to enter treatment with a more severe condition. The LGBTQ+ population faces unique challenges and an LGBTQ+ treatment center can help you find recovery from a substance use disorder.
The LGBTQ+ population has historically faced more difficulty with addiction disorders than others. According to a 2015 study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, individuals in the LGBTQ+ community are twice as likely to have used an illicit drug and are almost 90 percent more likely to have used substances in adolescence compared to their heterosexual peers.
There are additional challenges that can impact a person’s relationship with addiction, including the following
The Stress of Coming Out
Many LGBTQ+ people develop a substance use disorder as a way to cope with the stress of coming out. Telling your family or close friends about your sexual orientation or gender identity can be extremely stressful on your mental health. As a result, many LGBTQ+ people use alcohol or other substances to cope.
Dealing with Society's Attitudes Towards Sexuality
Whether you're transgender and someone misidentifies you or you are gay and have experienced varying degrees of societal heterosexism, it can be challenging not to turn to substances as a means to cope with these negative situations. Also, the cisgender, heterosexual norm is often the predominant viewpoint in the media and in day-to-day life, which can make you feel marginalized, misunderstood or judged.
Turning to the Bar Scene for Social Support
Negative experiences with family and society can be harmful to LGBTQ+ people. As a result, many people turn to social circles within the LGBTQ+ community as a newfound safe space. A social network like this that is supportive of gender identity can feel like a refuge, but frequent socialization in a bar or club can further complicate a person's relationship with drugs and alcohol or worsen an existing substance use disorder.
Discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community
People who have experienced one or more source of harassment or discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity may turn to alcohol and drugs as a means to cope. There are higher rates of bias and discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people than heterosexual, cisgender people, even among family, religious communities, employers and peers. And according to one study, those who had experienced some sort of harassment and discrimination were four times more likely to struggle with a substance use disorder.
Harassment towards LGBTQ+ people can vary from person-to-person, but might include:
- Social isolation or abandonment
- Domestic abuse
- Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Rejection by family, friends or religious community
- Loss of a job
- Violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity
- Social exclusion or bullying in adolescence
Unwarranted Sex Addiction Diagnosis
A challenge some LGBTQ+ people face is an unwarranted diagnosis of a sexual addiction—being categorized as sex addicts rather than receiving acceptance of their sexual orientation.
Treatment centers and therapists that equate their clients sexual orientation to a sexual addiction or episode of ‘acting out’ are being banned in many states, as this kind of response can be harmful to the recovery process. You shouldn't be ashamed of your sexual orientation or gender identity, and you shouldn't let a treatment program or mental health therapist make you feel that way.
It's important to find a treatment center or rehab center that is understanding and competent in LGBTQ+ issues. Ask questions about what kind of approach a particular treatment center takes towards the LGBTQ+ community and how they handle sensitive issues in treatment. Watch for any mention of conversion therapy, sex addiction or comments that signal there is any issue with your sexual orientation or gender identity. Be sure the treatment center you've chosen has a supportive, competent approach to LGBTQ+ treatment, and don't be afraid to look for reviews and recommendations.
LGBTQ Rehab Centers and Gay Recovery
No matter what challenges you have faced as a person in the LGBTQ+ community, it's important to remember there is help available—both for any traumas you've faced and struggles with addiction. A rehab facility or mental health therapist that specializes in the LGBTQ+ population will keep your sexual orientation and gender identity at the core of your recovery.
What is an LGBTQ-friendly rehab center?
LGBTQ+ treatment programs recognize that a person's sexual identity is a core part of who they are. Understanding a person's gender identity should be a focal point in treatment rather than a course or tract within a broader treatment program.
These programs employ staff who are competent and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues, helping their clients find recovery without vilifying or rejecting a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. These programs often include special classes or programming that focuses on issues pertinent to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as an overall culture that's understanding of what it means to be an LGBTQ+ person pursuing recovery.
What are the benefits?
There are numerous benefits of choosing an LGBTQ-friendly treatment center. Competency in issues that trans people and gay people face, including awareness of the special needs for different sexual orientations and gender identities, offering hormonal treatments in residential treatment settings, competent counseling, and most importantly, a nonjudgmental environment allows people the freedom to reconcile their lives with who they truly are—in recovery and in one's' gender identity.
Addiction Treatment Programs
There are different phases of recovery to learn about when considering an LGBTQ-friendly alcohol and drug rehab programs. From detox to an outpatient treatment program, there's help at any point in the journey.Here are the major phases of the treatment experience:
Detoxification is an important first step for people looking to get sober. Consider detox as a first step in your treatment journey. After using drugs and alcohol for a consistent period of time, many people experience withdrawal—the period of time when the body is ridding itself of substances.
Depending on the substances you've been taking, you may experience negative side effects to withdrawal, like irritation, vomiting, shaking and more. Withdrawal from certain substances, like alcohol or opiates, can even be life-threatening. With the help of medical professionals helping you get through withdrawal safely, you'll avoid returning to drugs or alcohol and will safely get to the next step in your treatment journey, which is often a residential or outpatient treatment program.
LGBTQ-friendly residential rehab facilities often include daily group therapy, individual counseling, mental health programming, nutritious meals, exercise programs and embedded programming unique to the LGBTQ+ population.
There are many skills taught in a residential treatment setting, including preventing relapse, addressing the underlying causes of substance abuse, and learning to build a sober support network. For LGBTQ+ people, each of these aspects has special considerations, so a specialized LGBTQ+ facility will address each treatment area with care, concern and competency towards your orientation or identity.
Whether you've completed a residential treatment program or are recommended to go directly to an outpatient treatment center, attending group and individual counseling on an outpatient basis can be helpful in preparing your daily life for recovery and sobriety.
The recovery environment is critical for most LGBTQ+ people. Depending on whether or not you have a safe housing environment, supportive peers or access to community resources, an outpatient program can help you stay connected to treatment programming while navigating the unique aspects of daily life in a sober way. In outpatient treatment you can also leverage support from a support group or therapist to create a relapse prevention plan, get acquainted with important community resources or form a sober support network.
How to Choose an LGBTQ+ and Gay-Friendly Rehab Center
If you think an LGBTQ+ treatment center could be right for you, it's important to ask questions to understand more about the program and what's offered. Your sexual identity should be a central part of substance abuse treatment because it’s a big part of who you are. Here a few other questions to ask as you find a treatment center that's right for you:
Some people report having a negative experience being recommended to Sex Addicts Anonymous (SA) instead of being met with support for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Learn what kinds of community support groups a treatment center will offer—this can tell you more about the program's philosophy or view on certain issues.
What programs are offered for aftercare?
Recovery is a long process, often requiring formal treatment services in an outpatient or residential program. But an important link in the recovery journey is aftercare—the recovery groups and ongoing support you'll receive after getting sober. Talk to your LGBTQ+ rehab program to see what programs are offered and how they can help you sustain recovery long-term.
How much does treatment cost?
The cost of a treatment program varies depending on what amenities are offered, as well as how long the program lasts. A treatment program can range anywhere from $0 for a low-cost treatment center to nearly $20,000 for a luxury rehab program. Consult with your treatment center and insurance provider to learn more about what a treatment program will cost.
How long will this treatment program last?
Like the cost of treatment, the length of treatment also varies. Residential programs can last anywhere from 30 to 90 days up to one year, and outpatient treatment programs can span several months, or even over a year.
What kind of therapies will be offered?
While an LGBTQ+ treatment center will focus on LGBTQ-specific issues throughout the course of treatment, most treatment centers utilize therapies like motivational interviewing, group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
As you get ready to start your treatment journey, remember that recovery is possible. And for those in the LGBTQ+ population, a recovery program that is compassionate and understanding of your gender identity exists, too.
Your gender identity or sexual orientation shouldn't be an afterthought in your substance abuse treatment. Consider an LGBTQ+ treatment center and find help today.