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Addiction in the LGBTQ Community

Bo Brown
| August 2, 2018

It took me a long time to overcome my struggle on covering this topic. I have been totally transparent in my previous blogs about my sexuality and my struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues. Even when I was using, I knew that my addiction and depression was somehow related to my sexuality and my past experiences. However, when researching the topic, I was blatantly unaware of the alarming statistics of addiction in the LGBTQ community.

LGBTQ FlagIn 2015 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, adults defined as “sexual minorities” (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) were more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults (39.1 percent versus 17.1 percent) to have used an illicit drug in the past year.

Nearly one-third of the sexual minority adults (30.7 percent) used marijuana in the past year compared to 12.9 percent of heterosexual adults and about one in 10 (10.4 percent) misused prescription pain relievers, compared to 4.5 percent of heterosexual adults.1 It has been estimated that 30 percent of the LGBTQ community struggles with some form of addiction compared to 9 percent of the general population.

In this blog, I will compare my personal experiences with some major topics that contribute to the dilemma of addiction with this population.

How my Addiction Started

In 1982, I was 18 and in college and finally of legal age to drink and enter a bar. During the 80s, a gay bar was one of the few places to socialize and feel comfortable in your own skin and be yourself. It was also a place where the alcohol flowed freely and someone struggling with their own insecurities could seek their false sense of self-esteem at the bottom of a bottle. Drugs were also easily available if you knew the right people.

Society at this time was at the height of the conservative Reagan era and AIDS was only spoken of in whispers, even in our own community. Today, the LGBTQ community is more visible and outspoken. Marriage equality which was unthinkable in my generation is now a reality. However, instead of just alcohol, todays culture is exposed to club drugs, prescriptions, and meth which runs frequent in the LGBTQ community.

Daily stress is also a factor in addiction in our community. Even with society being more accepting, many people deal with social prejudices.

They face bullying, fear of losing their employment and housing. The fear of coming out to family and friends and being disowned is still a commonality that is real to many of us. Hate crimes are a reality and have shown an increase with todays current administration. Not to recently, a new concept has emerged known as “internalized homophobia.” In internalized homophobia a person accepts his or her sexual stigma and discrimination as part of their self-concept and identity. This creates a self-loathing and many turn to drugs and alcohol to feel comfortable in their own skin and to numb the pain. This was a huge component of my recovery that took many years to overcome.

There are also reasons that many in the LGBTQ community do not seek treatment. Some of the reasons are lack of insurance or resources, fear of exposing truths about oneself, and finding a treatment center that is LGBTQ friendly and offers therapeutic tools in dealing with this specific population. When I first decided that I needed to go to treatment, I searched on the internet for facilities that specialized in treatment for the LGBTQ community. The choices were far and few between.

Fortunately, I found a great dual diagnosis facility that offered the specific characteristics that I was looking for. They helped me understand why I felt like I did and opened new insights to the reasons behind my addiction.


A Change is Coming

The LGBTQ community is more visible today in our society. Societal norms and acceptance is changing. Treatment centers also need to change to accept this part of the population that has been suffering in silence for a long time. There is help out there for those that have become lost and have internalized the fear and shame in their own personal true self. The acceptance of help and yourself is the key to living a life that can be amazingly beautiful.

If you would like to share your story with Heroes in Recovery, you can contact me at When you share your story, you are helping to break the stigma associated with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Much love,

1. Medley G, Lipair R, Bose J, Cribb D, Kroulil L, McHenry G. Sexual Orientation and Estimates of Adult Substance Use and Mental Health: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, NSDUH Data Review

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