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Addiction and Mental Health Disparities in LGBTQ+ Communities

Addiction , Recovery Alexa Iocco | January 14, 2022

Addiction and Mental Health Disparities in LGBTQ Communities Resurgence Behavioral Health

Addiction in LGBTQ+, mental health, health disparities in LGBTQ+

Research has shown that LGBTQ+ populations of all ages experience higher rates of mental health and substance use disorders in comparison to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. This is not due to members of the community being fundamentally prone to health issues, but it is due to systemic inequalities that have led to lower access to health care and worse health outcomes.

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Inequality in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment In The LGBTQ+ Community

As a country, we have made great progress towards equal rights for the LGBTQ+ but we still see disparities in their quality of healthcare, including mental health and addiction recovery. This is notable from data showing the community having higher rates of mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders, suicide rates, and lowered health outcomes. Some of the reasons for these disparities include:

  • Lack of specific education and training for healthcare workers
  • Fear of discrimination in the healthcare system
  • The minority status LGBTQ+ face
  • Lack of clinical research in LGBTQ+ health-related issues
  • Lack of role models
  • Lower insurance coverage rates
  • Discrimination from medical professionals

There are many issues driving higher rates of mental health and substance abuse disorders in the LGBTQ+ community. The biggest issue is Minority Stress, which is well documented, chronically high levels of stress in communities of stigmatized minority groups. These include discrimination, prejudice, microaggressions, and even physical and sexual assault. Many members of this community live in constant fear of ridicule and violence against them. These issues lead to mental health disorders but avoid professional treatment for fear of discrimination in the healthcare system and instead turn to substance use to deal with negative feelings. Substance abuse can then further exacerbate anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders which then turn into an addiction.

Seeking help for addiction can also be a challenge due to the fact that many traditional substance abuse programs do not know fully how to properly treat specific issues for LGBTQ+. Some of the issues they fail to treat are ways to deal with and cope with family issues surrounding their identity, social isolation, homophobia, and violence.

As much as addiction treatment programs attempt to be inclusive, individuals continue to face discrimination and lack of support while in these programs. Many do not complete treatment and easily relapse.

Drug and alcohol addiction is a growing concern in the LGBTQ+ community. Alcohol dependency affects about 25% of the LGBTQ+ community, while it only affects 5 to 10% of the general population, according to the Alcohol Rehab Guide. Drug use is also higher than in the heterosexual and cisgender communities. Some of it is due to coping with the stress of discrimination and the other reason is that many queer-friendly and inclusive places usually have high use of alcohol, like nightclubs and gay bars.

Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Abuse Use Disorders

One of the main issues also faced for LGBTQ+ seeking substance abuse treatment, is finding a place that treats co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders include any combination of two or more substance abuse disorders and mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. To treat addiction properly, underlying health issues also need to be treated.

In comparison to other communities, LGBTQ+ have worse mental health disorders. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), about 30 to 60% of lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, and transgender people deal with anxiety or depression. That rate is about 150 to 200% higher than people who identify as straight or gender-conforming.

Mental health issues also affect the LGBTQ+ youth at higher rates. In 2019 a study found that 23% of LGBTQ+ youth attempted suicide, in comparison to 6% heterosexual youth. They are especially prone to depression due to lack of representation in peers, school, and the media, as well as lack of education about what they are experiencing and feeling, and a lack of sense of community. LGBTQ+ youth are also more likely to be bullied, experience physical violence, and teasing at school. Sometimes the stress of discrimination doesn’t stop at school and their home life is challenging as well. Parents can react negatively when they learn their child is LGBTQ+ or fail to get them the proper support they need. These are all reasons why the rate of homelessness in LGBTQ+ youth is higher when compared to cisgender youth.

LGBTQ+ are also less likely to seek help for their mental health due to fear of prejudice from medical professionals. Untreated anxiety and depression lead to many other physical and mental issues, including suicide.

Another factor that causes high stress, anxiety, and depression in LGBTQ+ is in those who keep their identity a secret or remain “in the closet”. Fear of discrimination, being ostracized by friends and family, or even just not having the resources to know what they are feeling can keep many living a double life. This creates stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

It is common for people to turn to substance abuse to deal with mental health disorders. This is why it is common to see other mental health disorders among addicts and is often the cause for the addiction and why the rates of substance abuse are so high among LGBTQ+. Treatment facilities that specialize in treating LGBTQ+ tend to also treat co-occurring disorders. Treating the underlying cause of addiction and helping patients find healthier ways to cope with their emotions is the key to long-term recovery. Co-occurring disorders are usually treated with a variety of treatments including individual therapy, group therapy, cognitive therapy, biofeedback, and holistic care, such as meditation and acupuncture.

Stigma and Discrimination Towards LGBTQ+

LGBTQ+ people experience discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and social settings. For decades they have experienced a range of social, economic, and health disparities, usually due to culture and laws that have treated them as lesser human beings. LGBTQ+ are more likely to feel social isolation and struggle with poverty.

Research has shown that stigma against homosexuality and ignorance about gender identity is widespread. This includes society as well as within health systems. This has resulted in far-ranging effects on LGBTQ+ health and is especially worse if they are part of an ethnic or racial minority group.

Anti- LGBTQ+ discrimination has increased the risk of poor mental and physical health. Stigma and discrimination have caused high levels of stress leading to higher anxiety, depression, suicidality, PTSD, and cardiovascular disease rates. There is also constant fear surrounding being bullied, rejected, not being accepted, and sexually and physically assaulted which causes a constant feeling of hypervigilance.

At times, healthcare systems do not mean to be discriminatory but are due to a lack of knowledge from healthcare workers. They may not know how to treat certain issues or how to help someone through an issue they don’t understand. Lack of training in work and school has added to worse health outcomes.

Recent civil right advances and growing public acceptance of LGBTQ+ has made some big changes in the mental and physical health of the community. After same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2003, mental health visits dropped significantly in the state. As other states did the same, they saw a 7% decrease in suicide attempts among the community. In 2015 when the Supreme Court required all 50 states to recognize same-sex marriage, it increased the likelihood that the gay community had access to health insurance through their spouse.  

Access To Quality Addiction and Mental Health Care

There is a growing need for LGBTQ+ friendly addiction treatment centers that can offer individualized care along with an inclusive, non-judgmental space to allow patients to express themselves freely. Rehabs specializing in LGBTQ+ care train their staff to understand the many challenges gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, etc. face on a daily basis.

Quality care includes treating co-occurring disorders that many in the LGBTQ+ community face, which most likely led to their addiction. Getting to the root of the issue allows a better outcome for long-term sobriety.

Resurgence Behavioral Health provides a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQ+ to get the proper care for substance abuse and mental health disorders. It is important for our patients to let go of feelings of shame and be comfortable in their minds and bodies to truly heal.

We treat each patient as an individual and tailor every treatment plan based on their own unique situation and history. Our rehab program also allows patients to connect with other LGBTQ+ patients in order to build a stronger community based on shared life experiences. They will work individually and in groups with our therapists to overcome mental health disorders and learn new coping mechanisms to take with them after treatment.

The safety and comfort of every patient are our top priority. We ensure that our facility and culture are non-judgmental, inclusive, and open so that every patient has the same opportunity to fully heal. We are aware of how difficult it can be to be LGBTQ+ and feel confident that you will receive the best level of care.

If you or a loved one is looking for an addiction treatment center that specializes in LGBTQ+ care, you have come to the right place. Please give us a call today and one of our addiction specialists will be happy to guide you or answer any questions you may have about recovery at Resurgence Behavioral Health.

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