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Opioid Addiction in the LGBTQ+ Community

by Ashley Smith

Opioid addiction has gripped the United States affecting all walks of life, including minority groups. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community are at greater risk for substance use and mental disorders compared to heterosexuals, which means that opioids are a specific risk to the community. are twice as likely to misuse drugs and alcohol, with estimations of 20%-30% of gay and transgender people regularly misusing substances. It’s crucial to look at the factors that are leading the LGBTQ community toward substance misuse and eventual addiction to better understand the issues they are facing and to come up with potential solutions to aid them in recovery.

Socialization and Advertising

LGBTQ people have always gravitated towards their communities to feel safe when socializing, most often at bars, clubs, and cafes. These locales often involve drinking, smoking, and recreational drug use as part of the “culture,” causing many to experiment as a way to fit in. Advertisers are no stranger to this trend and have historically marketed their products to gay and transgender social circles. This kind of exploitation was first recognized in the early 90s, and with the higher rate of LGBTQ acceptance decades later, it has become commonplace. While advertisements can’t be solely to blame for substance misuse among the community, they do expose more people to substances that are targeted to peak their interest, particularly to new members of the community who are striving to find themselves and their identity.

Cultural Discrimination

Outside of big cities, LGBTQ rights are still under fire by local governments and people in non-inclusive regions. Despite what the federal government may legislate, being a sexual minority can be a dangerous and scary thing in many areas of the United States. Some LGBTQ individuals may feel hesitant to seek out medical services because they are afraid of how they will be treated by doctors or medical professionals. In many conservative states in America, LGBTQ people are still treated as second-class citizens and sometimes denied service altogether. Due to this, those who do seek out addiction treatment may not be completely forthcoming with their doctors, causing incomplete or less effective care. This experience can be distressing for people who genuinely want to take control of their addiction but are hindered by social injustices due to their sexual orientation or gender.

Stress and Social Insecurity

While the US has made great strides in recent decades to promote equality for all people, regardless of their sexuality, sexual minorities still feel persistently high amounts of stress. The prejudice that comes along with being LGBTQ is not only a social concern; some people are discriminated against in their workplace, housing, relationships, and everyday interactions with others. The stigma that hovers over people’s sexuality still has a long way to go before LGBTQ people are able to live more freely without worrying for their personal safety. This constant feeling of insecurity can lead to increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental illness that can come about if left untreated. Just as with heterosexual people, many LGBTQ members take substances to self-medicate, sometimes leading to addiction and a co-occurring mental disorder, making their lives even more stressful.

Limited Access to Treatment

Even with the growing number of addiction treatment centers, very few can meet the specialized needs of LGBTQ people. A national study conducted to examine various kinds of treatment programs offered to sexual minorities found that only 62 out of 854 were specialized to deal with issues specific to the LGBTQ community, while 70% of the overall programs boasted these services. Programs that are designed specifically for this community would help more people come forward about their substance misuse or addiction, and make it easier for them to seek the treatment they need for their co-occurring disorders.

Discrimination in Treatment

Along with limited treatment options that cater to the LGBTQ community, some people may also face intolerance, discrimination, and stigma when attending standard treatment. The fears over these reactions may cause some people to put off seeking help, causing them to spiral further into their addiction. Statistics show that LGBTQ people are twice as likely to be uninsured when compared to the general population, also creating a barrier to healthcare. Even for those people who are employed and who seek benefits from their employer, many policies do not extend coverage to same-sex domestic partners or spouses. Even public healthcare plans such as Medicaid make transgender exclusions that deny LGBTQ people from certain transition-related care, making the process of getting insured complicated and stressful.

Helping the LGBTQ Community

Changes need to be made to help include LGBTQ people when treating substance use disorders. Separate programs or offices can be designated for people of the community, and their can help more people access the treatment they need to get help. By hiring LGBTQ-friendly doctors and staff, treatment won’t feel like such an intimidating process, and it will come across as a much more approachable option for people who are struggling.

People in the LGBTQ community have been facing stigma for far too long, and the stigma surrounding addiction amplifies their troubles even more. The people in this community are not looking for special treatment, as the ultimate goal is equality. However, given the negative attitudes that still exist surrounding people’s gender and sexual orientation, some steps need to be taken to make sure this community is protected. Safe and specialized facilities that provide quality care for LGBTQ people are in need, especially considering the increased cases of substance use disorders within the sexual minority demographic. People who are looking to treat their disease should not be discriminated against and should have access to care when they need it.




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Medically Reviewed By:

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

Health Care Resource Centers Clinical Team

The Clinical Team at Health Care Resource Centers is our team of physicians and medical directors within the organization. HCRC is a CARF accredited organization and has been providing addiction treatment services for over 32 years in the New England area.

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