Substance Abuse Among LGBT

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Dating as far back as the 1920’s the gay rights movement has slowly fought for the rights and changes that have made the United States what it is today. Beginning from the stonewall riots, to enacting laws against sexual orientation discrimination, as well as the “”Don’t ask don’t tell policy”” and the landmark supreme court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, that extended the right for same sex couples to marry nationwide. All of these are just some of the most progressive moments in LGBT rights.

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Today, there is greater awareness than ever before on sexual diversity and gender. While people are becoming more open to accepting different sexual orientations as well as different gender identities. There is still widespread discrimination, and marginalization of the LGBT community persist. These issues are what ultimately impact the rate of substance abuse and has been shown in studies to be the most common factor in why LGBT use drugs.

Research has long suggested that adults who identify as LGBT abuse drugs and alcohol at higher rates than those who identify as heterosexual. Most of the research done however on the LGBT community is divided into sexual identity and is not talked about as a whole. Meaning it is split into lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender. It is not just one umbrella of research on LGBT as whole the way research on heterosexual individuals is. Few studies cover LGBT as a whole. Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug use and health found, “”sexual minorities were more likely to use illicit drugs in the past year, to be current cigarette smokers, and to be current alcohol drinkers compared with their sexual majority counterparts. Sexual minority adults were also more likely than sexual majority adults to have substance use disorders in the past year, including disorders related to their use of alcohol, illicit drugs, marijuana, or misuse of pain relievers. (Medley, Lipari, Bose, Cribb, Kroutil, and McHenry 2015) The study found that of those surveyed, 39.1% who identified as LGBT, admitted to using illicit drugs within the past year. The percentages were categorized and compared to percentages of the sexual majority. The results were as followed. Cocaine use was 5.1 to 1.8 percent. Heroin use was 0.9 to 0.3 percent. Hallucinogens, 5.0 to 1.6 percent. Inhalants, 3.7 to 0.3 percent. Lastly Methamphetamine was 2.3 to 0.6 percent. (Medley, Lipari, Bose, Cribb, Kroutil, and McHenry 2015).

For all illicit drugs with the exception of Heroin, those who identify as LGBT used these drugs at more than twice the percentage of their counterpart. Drug use was also twice more common with youth LGBT than with straight youth. The same study also showed that LGBT adults were more likely than heterosexual adults to be current alcohol drinkers or binge drinkers in the last thirty days. The difference between LGBT current alcohol drinkers compared to Heterosexual drinkers was very similar at 63.6 percent compared to 56.2 percent. The major difference was on binge drinking. Where LGBT adults were at 36.1 percent compared to 26.7 percent. (Medley, Lipari, Bose, Cribb, Kroutil, and McHenry 2015). In a separate survey conducted two years earlier by the U.S. Census Bureau. They also found that a higher percentage of LGBT adults reported past-year binge drinking than heterosexual adults. (Ward, 2013)

Which leads into what are the factors that influence the rate of substance use disorders within the LGBT population. Through my research I found that there are a few factors that directly impact them. The first is what is referred to as minority stress. They are stresses that LGBT encounter that heterosexuals do not have to deal with. For example, a study found that there is a link between sexual orientation discrimination to substance abuse. Slater, Godette, Huang, Ruan, and Kerridge (2017) conducted a study to show if the stress of discrimination directly affected the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual population. What they found was that sexual orientation-based discrimination was associated with certain substance abuse outcomes, specifically among bisexuals. They had increased odds of excessive drinking, and substance use disorder. In a separate study conducted by Rucker, Stogner, and Miller (2017) they also found a correlation between the LGBT community, stress, and drug use. They found that out of the people they surveyed, LGBT had a higher substance abuse rate than heterosexuals. Out of those who reported substance abuse 56% reported perceived stress as well.

However, in that particular study the stress factors where not looked into further to figure out what those stressors are. Further research that I found showed that according to LGBT advocates and researchers, the use of illicit drugs may be a coping mechanism for the stresses that LGBT is faced with every day. Such as prejudice that can affect employment opportunities, housing discrimination, social prejudice, discriminatory laws and lack of relationship recognition due to social unacceptance. (Hunt, 2012) There is also more fear and anxiety among the community to be themselves in public due to being possibly confronted or physically attacked due to their sexual orientation. The stress that comes from these daily battles with stigma and discrimination is the principle driving force among the community. Secondly marketing strategies among alcohol companies has targeted the LGBT community heavily. Taking advantage of the fact that gay bars are considered safe havens for Lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender. Marketing for tobacco and alcohol can be readily found in LGBT magazines as well as LGBT shows and LGBT events.

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Substance Abuse Among LGBT. (2020, May 04). Retrieved from