The LGBTQ community is more impacted by alcoholism than most. Luckily, awareness is growing, as is the number of LGBTQ-specific treatment programs.
The LGBTQ Community and Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a very serious problem in the LGBTQ community. Up to 25 percent of the general LGBTQ community has moderate alcohol dependency, compared to 5 to 10 percent of the general population. Some subgroups of the LGBTQ community have even higher rates of abuse. The group with the highest drinking rates in the LGBTQ community was bisexual women, 25 percent of whom reported heavy drinking. Despite the many challenges, awareness of LGBTQ alcoholism is growing, and many treatment facilities now tailor programs, or at least aspects of programs, to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ individuals.
Reasons for LGBTQ Alcoholism
The LGBTQ community is strongly impacted by alcoholism for a number of reasons. One of the most important is the intense bigotry that the LGBTQ community faces on a daily basis. This is especially true for older LGBTQ individuals or those who reside in less tolerant regions. This bigotry often results in intense emotional distress, including anxiety, fear, and feelings of low self-esteem. Many turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate, at least temporarily. As time goes on, this “self-medication” actually makes these symptoms worse, leading to more drinking, and a downward spiral has begun.
Additionally, alcohol use has become deeply ingrained in LGBTQ society as a result of history. For many decades, the only places that LGBTQ individuals, in particular gay men, could be open about their sexuality with other LGBTQ individuals and feel safe were in gay bars. Drinking became one of the primary social interactions in the community. In fact, many of the most important moments in LGBTQ history, such as the Stonewall Riots which led to the creation of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, were closely connected to gay bars. As a result, alcohol abuse, even heavy alcohol abuse, has become more normalized in the LGBTQ community than society at large.
Perhaps most damagingly, many members of the LGBTQ community do not have access to the same support systems as other members of society. Many are barred from attending faith-based support systems, or they at least have to hide their sexual identity to take part. Many LGBTQ individuals lose the support of their families, or at least significant parts of their families, as a result of coming out. In particular, many LGBTQ youth end up homeless after either running away from or being kicked out by their families.
Co-Occurring Disorders in The LGBTQ Community
A major contributing factor to higher rates of alcoholism in the LGBTQ community is the minority stress many face, due to sexual orientation.
Minority stress is defined as the negative impact of adverse social conditions experienced by a marginalized social group. Such stressors impact a person’s sense of identity and relationship to the world around them. As a result of such social pressures, several co-occurring disorders, or mental illnesses that are present alongside alcoholism, are more common among members of the LGBTQ community.
Transgender individuals, in particular, are especially vulnerable to using addictive substances to manage anxiety or depression. Studies have found that transgender students are more likely to deal with negative stigma and discrimination by abusing alcohol and maintaining poor sexual health.
Co-occurring disorders can occur in response to stress and internalized of negative societal views of their sexual orientation. The result of these disorders can encourage drug and alcohol use. Some members of the LGBTQ community may additionally experience:
- Low self-esteem
- Suicide attempts
- Self-harming tendencies
- Stress from homophobia
- Sexual assault
- Sexual abuse
Gender and Alcoholism in the LGBTQ Community
Alcoholism is a particularly tragic problem for the Lesbian community. Studies noted lesbian women have a three times greater likelihood of alcohol consumption compared to heterosexual men and women. Bisexual women (and men) report higher rates of alcoholism compared to both heterosexual men and women and homosexual women. Older lesbian women report higher drinking patterns compared to younger bisexual and lesbian women. Several theories for why larger numbers of female members of the LGBTQ community suffer from alcoholism exist. These include the damaging impacts of the combined sexism and homophobia lesbian and bisexual women face and the unusually high rates of childhood sexual trauma found in this population.
Finding Safety and Solace in Treatment
Treatment facilities across the country are becoming more sensitive to a variety of communities, healing patients in recovery with unique treatment plans. This is especially true of the LGBTQ community, and many facilities offer programs or services specifically catered to LGBTQ individuals. For example, some facilities offer self-love healing to encourage self-acceptance. Since many people who abuse alcohol have co-occurring disorders, patients can speak with licensed therapists to learn more about the root of their trauma and heal the mind and the body. Patients in recovery can greatly benefit from peer-groups which cater specially to LGBTQ communities where patients can feel supported and understood.
Looking to Change Your Life?
If you, a friend, or a loved one suffers from alcoholism, understand you are not alone. Transitioning to a life of sobriety is a big step which may require professional guidance. Treatment professionals are available to assist you in locating an LGBTQ-sensitive facility with a variety of treatment plans. Contact a dedicated treatment provider and begin living a life of freedom today.
- Clinical Reviewer — Last Reveiwed: April 12, 2019
Green, Kelly. E. Feinstein, Brian A. (2012). Substance Use in Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Populations: An Update on Empirical Research and Implications for Treatment. Retrieved on March 15, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3288601/
Hughes, Tonda. L. Wilsnacck, Sharon C. Kantor, Lori Wolfgang. (2016). The Influence of Gender and Sexual Orientation on Alcohol Use and Alcohol-Related Problems. Retrieved on March 15, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4872607/
Hunt, Jerome. (2012). Why the Gay and Transgender Population Experience Higher Rates of Substance Abuse. Retrieved on March 15, 2018 at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/reports/2012/03/09/11228/why-the-gay-and-transgender-population-experiences-higher-rates-of-substance-use/
Jones, Owen. (2016). Gay Men Are Battling A Demon More Powerful than HIV-And It’s Hidden. Retrieved on March 15, 2018 at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/20/gay-men-hiv-homophobia-lgbt-drink-drugs
McCabe, Sean Esteban. Hughes, Tonda L. Bostwick, Wendy B. West, Brady T. Boyd, Carol J. (2009). Sexual Orientation, Substance Use Behaviors and Substance Dependence in the United States. Retrieved on March 15, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2975030/
Perez, Medardo. (2017). Transgender Students Face Higher Rates of Substance Abuse, Study Finds. Retrieved on November 13, 2014 at https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/transgender-students-face-higher-rates-substance-abuse-study-finds-n795016
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