Why is Substance Abuse Common in the LGBT Community?

“My lesbian cousin is so cool to hang out with. But she is usually depressed because of all the drugs she takes. I wonder why does she need that?”

“Can we trust a gay man who is always down on drugs?”

This isn’t a very uncommon stereotype that we all come across. Everyone in the LGBT community is assumed to be doing some form of substance abuse. To be true, it is a fact, LGBT individuals are more prone to substance abuse than heterosexual individuals.

In the latest fight towards equality, a lot of LGBT concerns have managed to gain the attention they deserve. The media and the general public has been able to empathise and connect to the causes. However, there are many underlying facets to LGBT life that have not been in the spotlight. One of the most undermined and neglected facets to today’s LGBT community is its association with substance abuse.

Why do you think the number is so alarmingly high amongst LGBT individuals? For that, one needs to understand why anyone in general prone to substance abuse. There could be multiple reasons why an individual does any form of substance. It could be to get over something when s/he is fighting an unspoken battle, when s/he has a big secret or is facing a crisis s/he can’t share with anyone else. Yup, some people do drugs as a means to gain attention too. But LGBT individuals already have a lot on their plates with stress and identity issues to add in the concern of attention. It becomes difficult for them to love themselves and lead a positive life.

Here are some similar statistics that raise serious concerns about the welfare of our LGBT community:

  • LGBT youngsters are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and make attempts.
  • Transgender youth are the most likely to take up substance abuse.
  • Attempts of self-harm are much higher amongst LGBT individuals.

Here are three major reasons why the LGBT community is more prone to substance abuse. I have also included certain ways that can help reduce substance abuse.

  1. The LGBT community lives its daily life in a high level of stress and judgement. This is borne from social prejudice & discriminatory laws. They face discrimination at work, relationships and also at social functions.
  2. The health care system lacks cultural competency; this discourages the LGBT community to ask for help.
  3. Marketing efforts by tobacco and alcohol companies misuse the safe space used by LGBT communities. Access to drugs is increased in these spaces to promote sales.

Looking deeper into the factors that encourage substance abuse by the LGBT community:

  1. Minority Stress

    The fact that they belong to a small group of people that is unique, is made evident daily. This stress is increased when they face it on a day-to-day basis in their daily lives, at work and outside work too. Most times it’s in small and subtle ways. For example, when someone at a social gathering asks which among of the lesbian couple is the husband. Transgenders are usually ridiculed at public places for no reason.

    These kinds of prejudices discourage gay couples and individuals from making social contact at large. This is a way to avoid any kind of awkward confrontations and stay out of harm. Eventually, this leads up to stress and fear while performing the smallest of tasks. They fear going out for something as simple as a walk, in fear of ridicule. Fortunately for now, new community based support services coming up in many countries. These focus on providing the support that every human deserves. Discriminatory and biased laws also put them at risk making them feel even more helpless.

  1. Discrimination in Employment

    This is another big trigger of stress leading to substance abuse. There are still 29 states where an employee can be discriminated against his/her sexuality. They can be terminated, fired and be judged in these many states. As high as 43% of the LGBT community report being harassed at work based on their sexuality. This is a scary number!

    A stable job is a basic requirement for any human in today’s growing economy. Workplace discrimination puts a real and scary threat to the economic and emotional stability of a person. At times, financial security allows them to be more confident amongst their family and friends. With this discrimination becomes a hindrance to a steady income and health insurance, but also affects the family of the victim. Not being able to provide for a family who is dependent on you can become another reason for stress.

  1. Housing Constraints

    This might look like a small concern to the general public but is a serious problem to most (56%) of the LGBT community. Everybody needs a roof on their heads to lead a normal life. A safe and comfortable house is another basic requirement a person needs to function out of. Concerns, like living in an unsafe neighbourhood or shifting houses frequently, is another problem.

  2. Discrimination in Health Care

    This is another serious concern for most LGBT individuals. Lack of affordable treatment and absence of competent health care top the primary concerns. Most LGBT individuals are known to be living without insurance that covers them. The lack of affordable public health insurance forces most people to take coverage from employers. This becomes extremely difficult for most LGBT individuals. And, not many companies provide health insurance benefits to a same-sex partner of an employee.

Apart from all the above concerns, most medical practitioners are not trained to attend to LGBT groups. This ignorance or lack of care leads to extremely poor quality of treatment.

These all factors come together to make an LGBT individuals life more difficult and uncomfortable. The subsequent result stress and pressure at a level where substance looks like the only relief. Not only does it destructs their physical health but also messes up their mental health terribly.

Putting a curb at the alarming rate of substance abuse among the LGBT community will be a tough task. Mostly because there are so many factors involved and so many people who need to contribute. But fortunately for us, things have started for good and showing the right results.


Bronte Price is Australia’s First Certified Gay Celebrant Melbourne and the co-founder of The Equality Network that helps wedding suppliers create a better wedding experience for LGBTI couples. He is also a member of GLOBE (Gay and Lesbian Organisation for Business and Enterprise) that empowers the LGBT community. His stand on ‘marriage equality’ and ‘love has no boundaries’ is unparalleled. Apart from that, he enjoys volunteering as a newsreader at Joy 94.9, spends time in his organic backyard vegetable garden and goes on walks with his fiancée Clint and their four-legged fur baby – Bingo.

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