Addiction in the LGBQTIA Community | Wellness Retreat

Addiction in the LGBTQIA Community

Though society has come a long way towards acceptance and understanding of sexual minorities, this community still faces a great number of obstacles that heterosexual people do not. Those obstacles can become internalized and can lead to self-loathing, which can lead to alcohol and drug misuse.  

Addiction in the LGBTQIA Community

Addiction in the LGBTQIA Community

Though society has come a long way towards acceptance and understanding of sexual minorities, this community still faces a great number of obstacles that heterosexual people do not. Those obstacles can become internalized and can lead to self-loathing, which can lead to alcohol and drug misuse. 

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Human beings have an inherent need to feel safe, secure, and connected. Once our most basic needs are met, like food and shelter, our emotional needs become our number one priority. And whether or not we are aware of it, feeling accepted and approved of by the people around us has a huge impact on our mental and emotional health.


We are taught from a very young age to seek out approval. We want to please our parents, our teachers, our peers, and our neighbors – approval and acceptance from society keep us safe.


When we aren’t met with approval, we feel insecure, and this insecurity can lead to harmful patterns of thinking and behavior, such as the misuse of alcohol and other drugs.


Substance use disorder (SUD) is twice as likely among the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and/or Questioning and Asexual and/or Ally), and discrimination and social stigma play a significant role in those numbers.

Internalized Homophobia and Minority Stress

Historically, heterosexuality was considered “normal” while any other type of sexual inclination was considered “abnormal”. Times are changing and we’ve made strides towards inclusion and acceptance, but there is still a significant amount of stigma facing sexual minorities.


“Minority stress” refers to stressors due to one’s own race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. Minority stress is generally chronic in nature because it is based on an aspect of the individual’s existence that is unchangeable.


In a world that views heterosexuality as normal, and any other sexual identity as strange, identifying and navigating life as an LGBTQIA person is a precursor for minority stress. Facing backlash for the gender you self-identify with, or for whom you choose to love can be devastating.


When someone is constantly subjected to society’s negative perceptions, intolerance, and stigma towards people with same-sex attraction, they may turn those ideas inward, either consciously or unconsciously, leading to internalized homophobia. 

Additional Obstacles Faced by the LGBTQIA Community

When we effortlessly fit in with societal norms it’s easy to take for granted the privileges this awards us. Being different can be dangerous in terms of social acceptance. This is why many people in the LGBTQIA community feel forced to remain “closeted” way beyond the time they realize they aren’t heterosexual. 


Some of the challenges this community faces include:

It’s bad enough to be shamed or bullied for acting a certain way or stating an unpopular opinion. But facing rejection, discrimination, stigmatization, or humiliation just for being who you are can be damaging to your very core.


When constantly faced with dislike and disapproval simply for existing, self-medication can seem like a reasonable way to deal with the perpetual feeling of not belonging.


Self-medication refers to the use of alcohol or drugs to relieve anxiety or stress without necessarily having a prescription or sound medical advice. Many people self-medicate without realizing they are doing so; they believe they are just having a good time, or “letting loose” – until they aren’t having fun anymore, and they need that substance just to feel normal.


People often don’t realize they are self-medicating until they are unable to quit or taper off their substance of choice, or they face some sort of negative consequence of their use, such as a health or legal crisis.

Substance Abuse Statistics

People in the LGBTQIA community are disproportionately affected by SUD compared to the rest of the population. As early as the 1970’s studies showed that substance use and addiction issues were significantly higher for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. 

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People in the LGBTQIA community are twice as likely to abuse substances than the general population

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Gay and transgender individuals use tobacco up to 200% more than heterosexuals

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20-25% of the LGBTQIA community have moderate to severe alcohol dependency

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Gay men are 3.5 times more likely to use Marijuana than straight males

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The LGBTQIA community are 12.2 times more likely to use Amphetamines

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LGBTQIA individuals are 9.5 times more likely to use Heroin than heterosexuals

The bullying and harassment faced by the LGBTQIA community play a significant factor in these numbers. Remember, acceptance and approval make us feel safe. Not feeling safe can lead to us making choices that may feel helpful at the moment, but are actually quite harmful to us in the long run, such as drinking more alcohol to feel calm and secure in social situations.

What Does Addiction Look Like?

Although anxiety, stress, and social factors may have an impact on a person’s decision to drink or use drugs, becoming dependent on substances is not a weakness or a moral failing. There are people who drink alcohol or use drugs on a regular basis and never become addicted, just as there are people who become dependent on substances almost immediately after using them.


Addiction is complicated. There are many factors that determine whether or not someone will become addicted to something, and we still don’t entirely grasp the mechanics of how it all works.


We do understand more than we used to, and we know that emotional distress, especially when it’s caused by social isolation (or bullying, harassment, or violence) plays a big role in a person’s likelihood of becoming dependent on substances.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

If you or someone you care for identify as a sexual minority, and you feel concerned about alcohol or drug abuse, here are some things to be looking out for:

This is not an exhaustive list, nor will every person struggling with substance use experience every single item on this list. Addiction is different for everybody, though the results are often quite similar – a steady decrease in quality of life, both physically and emotionally.

Alcohol Use in the LGBTQIA Community

Alcohol is a common drug of choice (yes, it’s a drug!) because it’s easy to obtain, legal, and very prevalent in social settings. It’s often referred to as a social lubricant because it lowers inhibitions and makes it easier to tolerate uncomfortable situations.

Gay bars have been a safe haven for sexual minorities for decades. It became normal for people in the LGBTQIA to come together for “happy hour” and drink to excess in order to forget the daily stress of constant oppression and discrimination.


For a long time, gay bars were the only place for queer individuals to come together, let it all hang out, and be accepted for who they were. Alcohol was widely accepted as part of the gay scene and culture. Drinking became one of the primary social interactions among gay people (and other sexual minorities). It was almost expected – heavy drinking became normalized.


Alcohol is a slippery slope when it comes to addiction. You can quickly become tolerant of alcohol, meaning you need more and more of it to feel the same effects. Signs of alcohol abuse include:

If you or your loved one are struggling with alcohol dependence, please reach out for help as soon as possible. Quitting drinking on your own can be dangerous. Withdrawal from alcohol often requires medical assistance. 

Addiction Treatment for the LGBTQIA Community

Comorbidity refers to the simultaneous presence of 2 or more medical conditions in a patient. For example, someone with a SUD may also present with severe depression, or anxiety. 


Internalized homophobia happens when LGBTQIA individuals self-identify with anti-gay stigmas. This leads to self-loathing and an inability to feel safe or comfortable in one’s own skin.


As a result of internalized homophobia (and social isolation and discrimination), comorbidities are more prevalent in sexual minorities than in the general population, particularly for bisexual women. More than half of bisexual, gay, or lesbian women who met the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) also had a psychiatric disorder.  


Comparatively, one-third of heterosexuals with AUD disorder presented with a co-occurring disorder.


The increased stressors of being a sexual minority are a driver of these disproportionate numbers. Common co-occurring disorders present in the LGBTQIA community include:

One way to tolerate the discomfort of internalized homophobia, stigma, discrimination, and bullying is to use alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate and numb out, but this is what leads to comorbidity. Now you have trauma and uncomfortable feelings about yourself buried beneath the numbness of drugs or alcohol.


Up until very recently people in the LGBQTI community were lumped up with heterosexuals when seeking out treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. This could lead to even more feelings of isolation and feeling misunderstood. 


Fortunately, things are changing. We understand now that the LGBTQIA community faces unique challenges, like internalized homophobia and minority stress, and there are recovery centers that offer specialized treatment for this population.


Every individual deserves to feel whole, regardless of their sexual or gender identity. If you or someone you love are struggling with substance issues, please reach out for help sooner rather than later. Things do not have to get worse before they get better, and there is a healthier happier life waiting for you.