From prescription drugs to cocaine, LGBT drug use is substantially higher than abuse by the general population. Find out why.
A 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Health revealed that almost 40 percent of gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals admit recent illegal drug use — more than double the number reported by straight survey respondents.
Why is illegal drug use higher in LGBTQ communities? Let’s take a look at the historical and contemporary issues contributing to this pattern.
LGBT Drug Use Is Not Just A Party Thing
While many are quick to blame the “party and play” scene (a subculture in which members use drugs to facilitate sex), the reality is that party drugs aren’t the only substances that gay populations are using at a disproportionate rate. 10.4 percent of gay respondents misused prescription pain relievers, as compared to 4.5 percent of straight respondents. Additionally, 5.1 percent of gay respondents used cocaine compared to 1.8 percent of straight respondents, 5 percent used hallucinogens compared to 1.6 percent of straight respondents, and 3.7 percent used inhalants compared to 0.3 percent of straight respondents. This usage disparity continued with other drugs, including methamphetamine, heroin, stimulants, and sedatives.
Even when looking at subcategories such as age and sex, survey respondents who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual continued to surpass the drug-use levels reported by their straight counterparts. In both the 18-25 and 26+ age categories, more gay respondents reported recent drug use than straight respondents. It’s also worth pointing out that LGBT drug use was up for both male and female survey respondents, and more women (41.1 percent) admitted recent drug use than men (36.3 percent).
It’s A Mental Health Thing
LGBT drug use doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s always an underlying cause — in many cases, one that’s not all that challenging to pinpoint. Gay people have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide than their straight counterparts — all of which can motivate self-medication and substance abuse. In fact, individuals dealing with depression or anxiety are two to three times more likely to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives than the general population.
But why is the gay population more prone to mental health issues than straight people? While there are a variety of factors at play, research predominantly points to a phenomenon known as “minority stress.” Minority stress refers to the anxiety that comes from being a member of a marginalized group.Being the only woman at a business meeting, being the only black person in a liberal arts college class, or being the only trans person in a small town — these are all examples of situations in which one would experience minority stress. Studies have demonstrated that the particular minority stress that sexual minorities experience is directly linked to higher rates of mental health issues, and related stressors like stigma-consciousness and internalized homophobia are shown to increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety.
Consider the stress that each of us — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — cope with on a regular basis. For those dealing with minority stress, that baseline level of anxiety is constantly elevated — to the point that those who suffer from it often don’t even recognize it. It’s their normal.
The experience of minority stress is compounded by the fact that for many LGBTQ individuals, their minority status is often kept hidden for many years. Not only do they experience anxiety as they navigate culturally condonedmicroaggressionss and hostilities, but they often must do it without any support network.
Ending the Epidemic
The best way to combat LGBT drug abuse is to hammer away at its root causes: depression and anxiety brought on by minority stress and outright discrimination, loneliness, and a lack of safe spaces. It’s a tall order given the fact that, for LGBTQ individuals, finding the right care from an affirming mental health professional or healthcare provider can be challenging.
Our mission is to connect the LGBTQ community with health and wellness providers who understand them, their experiences, and the unique considerations they face. For those outside of the LGBTQ community, the best thing you can do is educate yourself. Work to empathize with and truly understand the experiences that contribute to the higher rates of addiction for minority groups. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, find help. Encourage them to seek counseling, medical assessments, or attend rehabilitation programs.
Whatever you’re going through, don’t face it alone. Let’s tackle this together.