Being Queer and Having Substance Abuse Disorder

Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community comes with unique challenges. One such challenge that is not unique to this community, but very prevalent within it, is substance abuse and addiction. Growing up queer and being an adult in the queer community, substances can play a damaging role.

Perhaps someone has already experienced substance use disorder (SUD), is in recovery, and is looking to reenter life in the queer community. Maybe someone else is struggling with substances right now and needs more information on what to do. Even if someone is simply an ally looking for ways to support a friend, everyone can always benefit from understanding what it is like to be queer and have SUD and what the options are for treatment.

Party Culture

There is a stereotype that people who are queer have a high chance of being a partier. While this stereotype does not always play out, there is a grain of truth in it. It is displayed on TV and on other media platforms that many LGBT folk party more than the average person. Regardless of whether the people who are in this community are really bigger partiers than those who are not, there is a clear correlation between partying and SUD.

Party culture can promote drug use. Whether it is alcohol, marijuana, or more illicit substances, most things can be found at parties and can lead to addiction. Even party drugs can be addictive. While it may seem harmless to use occasionally in a party setting, there is always a risk for SUD.

Masking Queerness With Substances

It can be hard to feel accepted in society when someone does not fit into normative sexual and gender roles. Queer people might tend to use substances to quell the emotions that come from being judged by society or as an attempt to drown out feelings that align them with the queer community.

Some people in the LGBT community may have not come out yet. Not being one's authentic self can really damage their mental health. Substance use is a way people try to ease that mental burden. They can cover up those feelings of social inadequacy with a substance.

The problem with this line of thinking is that using substances to cope does not address the real problem. It is simply a bandaid to cover a massive wound. To get real help, people in this community may need to seek professional help. 

Childhood Trauma

Whether someone is out or not, there is still a high chance that, like most queer kids, they did not fit in as a child. They may have found that there was something different about them than most other kids. This can be difficult and the loneliness can be overwhelming. On top of that, they also stand the risk of being bullied.

Substance use can come into play here, too. A study in the medical journal Pediatrics shows that gender non-conforming children have a higher chance of abusing substances. Substance use is even more detrimental at a younger age because the brain has not fully developed. Children and adolescents who get into substance use may not learn the proper coping skills to deal with and properly process issues.

Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming

Being transgender or gender non-conforming brings a whole other set of challenges, especially in social settings. A study in the Clinical Psychological Review finds that people who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming suffer from a “range of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicidality.” 

Poor mental health is the leading cause of SUD. The challenges one faces throughout the transgender and gender non-conforming experience are unlike most in the LGBTQ+ community. Still, substance use is not a healthy solution.  

What to Do

It is unfortunate to say, but identifying as part of the LGBT community puts people at a higher risk for SUD. There are issues specific to this community that uniquely predispose people to substance abuse.

Luckily there are things people can do to prevent this. The number one thing people in this community can do is be mindful of what they are doing and why they are doing it. This means asking questions like, “Why am I using a substance?” “Am I trying to avoid something?” “Am I in good or poor mental health?” Questions like these can help get to the root of one's problems. 

Another good thing for people to do is monitor their intake. Questions like, “Am I able to stop at just one drink or hit?” and “Once I start, can I stop?” can help someone realize if they have a problematic relationship with substances. 

Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community does, statistically, put you at a higher risk of SUD. There are challenges, unique to this community, that make its members extremely vulnerable to substance abuse. It can be difficult to talk to people and admit that you may have a problem or that the problem has grown out of control. Luckily, there are professionals who are here for you. NorthStar Transitions, located in Boulder, CO, can be the place to find help. Our experienced staff can help you get the help you need in a supportive, inclusive environment. Our addiction treatment programs are carefully curated so that people who identify as queer can feel comfortable, welcomed, and supported. If you or someone you know needs treatment, start with NorthStar. You can take the first steps by calling us today at (303) 558-6400.

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