It is fantastic to see that our country, and other countries around the world, have made steps towards the acceptance of people in the LGBT community. This is a relatively new movement of acceptance, even though people in the LGBT community have been fighting for acceptance and equal rights throughout many decades. Up until June 26, 2015, gay marriage was outlawed. There are still steps that need to be taken in order to achieve full equality and acceptance for people in this community. Unfortunately, there are still people and laws out there that want to keep these individuals from being who they want to be, loving who they want to love. Because there are still places out there that try to strip these communities of their rights and their freedoms, some feel as though they need to hide who they truly are. When a person has to hide who they are in fear of judgment/hate, they could end up developing some seriously dangerous coping mechanisms. One of the most prominent for these individuals is substance abuse.

Social Stigma and the LGBT Community

As we mentioned previously, even though there are movements towards love and acceptance of people in this community, there is still a massive social stigma against them. There is still discrimination and other challenges these people face daily. Though people in the LGBT community may feel accepted in booming metropolises like New York or Los Angeles, more rural states are where individuals in this community may face backlash for their sexual orientation. There is still a sense of fear that LGBT individuals face today. Because of this, they are more likely to develop behavioral health issues, like substance abuse.

LGBT Substance Abuse

It’s no secret that the LGBT community is not a universally accepted movement. There are still people out there who push back against their efforts for acceptance, thus creating a massive social stigma and judgment. Only until recently did federally funded surveys start to ask about sexual orientation, and what they found in relation to LGBT substance abuse was shocking.

Studies have shown that people who associate themselves with the LGBT community have much higher rates of substance abuse, most likely due to the public backlash and hatred they receive.

The studies find that people in the LGBT community are twice as likely to have used an illicit substance when compared to people who are heterosexual. Nearly ⅓ of those who identify as LGBT have abused marijuana and nearly 10% of them have misused prescription painkillers. Comparatively, about 12.9% of heterosexual individuals have misused marijuana and 4.5% have misused prescription painkillers. Another alarming statistic comes from a study done in 2013 that shows us that LGBT individuals are much more likely to binge drink or develop an addiction to alcohol than those who are heterosexual. LGBT teenagers or adolescents are also 90% more likely to develop an addiction or misuse substances than heterosexual teens and adolescents. The difference in statistics is outstanding. But why do they abuse these substances? Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent reasons as to why these individuals wind up developing such unhealthy habits.

Why Do They Abuse Substances?

  • Mental Illness: Because of the social stigma this community faces every day, people who may have a harder time accepting themselves may develop certain mental health issues. Issues like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other behavioral/emotional issues are all very common issues individuals in this community end up facing. These sorts of issues, if left untreated and ignored, can lead a person to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. We all have different ways of handling stress and anxiety, some ways are healthier than others. For some people, they wind up developing unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substance abuse, for one reason or another. Even worse, mental health issues can be worsened by addiction. Eventually, it could lead to suicidal thoughts.
  • Upbringing/Environment: There are places around the world that have a better time accepting people in the LGBT community, but there are still places that do not accept these kinds of individuals. These individuals are not always fortunate enough to live in places where they are as accepted as they should be. Because of this, they may start to feel as if something is wrong with them or they may feel alone. Families can even make them feel as though they developed incorrectly. Because of this, a person may start to seek ways of dealing with the stress and backlash they’re facing (i.e. substance abuse).
  • Social Stigma Around Addiction: Oftentimes, people believe addiction to be a choice, but it is not. Yes, the first initial decision to use a substance is a choice, but the second, third, or fourth time after that may not be something they are consciously choosing by themselves. Addiction is actually a disease that affects the mind, body, and soul of an individual and makes them believe they are incomplete without a substance. Not many people know this and they still treat it as a choice. Because of this, people will often view those who struggle with addiction as lacking morals, creating a massive stigma around addiction. It’s another form of shame a person in the LGBT community has to face, making it difficult for them to actually see and admit when they are struggling with substance abuse.

The LGBT community is a community that is challenging the social stigma or sexual orientation, they’re fighting for equality, acceptance, and freedom. However, this is not the only battle that these people face. Addiction is something that is plaguing individuals in this community. In order to help these people fight addiction, we need to help fight against the social stigma of the LGBT community and the social stigma that surrounds addiction. It’s okay to not be okay, there is a way to fight substance abuse.

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