People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) often find themselves in stressful situations. They must defend their rights, struggle with harassment, and battle discrimination. People who identify as LGBT may face higher rates of substance abuse and mental health conditions.

All these factors contribute to the development of behavioral and mental health problems. That’s why addiction and substance abuse in LGBTQ individuals isn’t a rarity. In fact, studies show that substance abuse and substance use disorders (SUDs) are more common in the LGBTQ population than in the overall adult population.

Overcoming addiction for LGBTQ people may be more challenging due to environmental factors that contribute to its occurrence in the first place. That’s why these patients require comprehensive assistance with a customized approach to their needs.

Why Is Substance Abuse Common in the LGBTQ Community?

Since drug use and alcohol use provide short-lived relief from stress and anxiety, LGBTQ people who face them frequently give in to substance abuse. Getting timely professional assistance is the key to addiction recovery for members of the  LGBTQ community.

Common reasons why LGBTQ people struggle with substance abuse and co-occurring mental health problems include:

Gender Identity Harassment

LGBTQ people, especially teenagers, often become victims of bullying, aggression, and harassment. Even if physical abuse isn’t involved, bullying and harassment can lead to various psychological problems, such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

Both depression and anxiety co-occur with substance abuse. While one doesn’t necessarily cause the other, many LGBTQ adults who face these problems use alcohol and illicit drugs for self-medication.

Family Rejection

People who struggle with mental health issues, harassment problems, and bullying need family support. Unfortunately, LGBTQ individuals often don’t have it. Just the opposite, instead of offering the much-needed support, families turn away from these people and worsen the existing problem.

Family rejection can lead to severe health conditions, including mental health issues. Studies demonstrate that LGBTQ young adults who experienced family rejection are 5.9 times more likely to report depression and 3.4 times more likely to use illicit drugs.


Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are significant factors that contribute to addiction in the LGBTQ community. These people are almost four times more likely to experience sexual and physical abuse than non-LGBTQ groups.

This abuse leads to psychological consequences, mental health disorders, and drug abuse. Since only a few people are ready to get help for these problems, they end up worsening their condition with continuous drug and alcohol use.

Risk Factors of LGBTQ Substance Abuse

While more LGBTQ people face the substance abuse struggle than non-LGBTQ communities, some factors increase the risk of developing this condition.

  • Internalized homophobia – even if family and friends support an LGBTQ person, they can suffer from negative emotions that the rest of the community faces. A person can feel the anti-gay stigma internally and develop low self-esteem and even self-hate.
  • Stigma – many LGBTQ people struggle with stigma related to their choices. More than 50% report hiding personal relationships. This makes it even harder for them to seek professional assistance for their drug abuse problems.
  • Sexuality issues – many LGBTQ people experience issues related to their sexuality. From sexual dysfunction and HIV-related anxiety to compulsive sexual behavior and abuse, many factors can contribute to addiction and substance abuse problems.

One of the most common risk factors for LGBTQ substance abuse is co-occurring disorders. Research shows that people with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can use alcohol and drugs for self-medication.

The short-lived effect of illicit drugs and alcohol turns into stress, withdrawal, and more anxiety, locking a person in a vicious cycle.

Types of Substances That LGBTQ People Commonly Abuse

When the LGBTQ population turns to substance abuse to improve their psychological and physical condition, they can use different substances. Researchers looked at middle-aged and older LGBTQ patients and found that they were:

  • More than two times more like to use cannabis than heterosexual adults
  • Twice as likely to use prescription tranquilizers
  • More than twice as likely to use prescription opioids

All the drugs mentioned above were used for non-medical purposes. Meanwhile, according to studies, the odds for LGBTQ adolescents to abuse different types of drugs were 190% higher than for heterosexual people of the same age. The odds were even higher for bisexual adolescents (340%) and for females (400%).

Why LGBTQ People Don’t Get Assistance for Substance Abuse

LGTBQ people with a substance use disorder often live with this problem without getting professional assistance. In some cases, these people may feel uneasy seeking LGBTQ substance abuse treatment.

The most common reasons why they don’t try to get help are:

  • Stigma – both youths and older adults are afraid of being further stigmatized for their substance abuse habits. While they have to deal with gender-related stigma, it’s hard for them to face a new one.
  • Fear of the unknown – many people don’t know what addiction treatment for LGBTQ entails. They fear more discrimination and bullying. They are also afraid to fail.
  • Loss of solution – since LGBTQ youth believe that substance abuse is a solution (albeit short-lived) for their problems, they worry that getting treatment could land them on square one.
  • Denial – many people simply deny having a problem. They can’t admit to themselves that abuse is out of their control. These patients often believe they can quit anytime without outside help.

Lack of family and friends support is another reason the LGBTQ population doesn’t seek assistance. They don’t have someone who can help them take the first step, consult an addiction recovery center, or arrange an intervention.

Help with Addiction in San Diego

The LGBTQ population may have more difficulty asking for professional medical assistance than other groups. While severe substance abuse disorders and co-occurring conditions are treatable. A comprehensive professional approach to LGBTQ addiction treatment yields excellent results.

Healthy Life Recovery is a substance abuse treatment center that helps LGBTQ patients and other groups overcome their addictions. A wide choice of programs, methods, and approaches allow patients to recover from addiction, treat co-occurring disorders, and avoid relapses.

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