LGBTQ substance abuse treatment can be a promising resource for individuals in this community. LGBTQ can be described as people who identify as gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, or questioning. People in the LGBTQ community face numerous challenges, from social stigmas to substance abuse.

Sexual orientation can be described as a person’s emotional, sexual, and/or relational attraction to others. Gender identity can be classified as a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Gender expression is the way a person expresses their sense of gender identity.

Substance Abuse and the LGBTQ Community

Substance abuse does not discriminate, however, our society seems to continue this practice. Addiction is a brain disease that manipulates the reward centers of the brain. Addiction can transform the way a person behaves, usually influenced by their background and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Despite significant strides in society, the LGBTQ community aims for the same equality as the rest of us. The greater awareness and visibility of LGBTQ issues has provided education into the experiences of these people. Since the 1990s, more young adults have been coming out or identifying as queer. Providing accurate information involving sexual orientation and gender identity is critical to rewriting the stereotypes.

As a result of stereotypes or mistreatment, LGBTQ people could:

  • Deny their sexual orientation
  • Avoid other LGBTQ people
  • Suppress their emotions (i.e. Romantic/Sexual)
  • Have multiple or anonymous partners
  • Develop a substance use disorder
  • Attempt suicide

How Present is Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ Community?

The risks of LGBTQ substance abuse are high for these individuals. In the LGBTQ community, 1 in 6 adults struggles with drug and alcohol use. In 2019, 7.6 million LGBTQ people had mental health and substance use disorder increase of 20.5%. LGBTQ substance abuse is twice as likely compared to heterosexual counterparts. The social deterrents towards people in the LGBTQ community can influence feelings of shame and guilt. 

Alcohol use disorder rates among LGBTQ individuals remained the same in 2019.  In 2019, 1.4 million LGBTQ adults had reported opioid misuse. Marijuana use among the LGBTQ community has increased. Additionally, in 2019, methamphetamine and LSD use increased among LGBTQ adults ages 26 or older. Polydrug use is a common element in substance use addiction. Polydrug use can be described as someone who abuses a substance with another.

Why do LGBTQ Individuals turn to Alcohol or Drug Use?

The LGBTQ community has dealt with a nauseating history of discrimination and ill-fitted classifications in the United States. Consistent research has indicated that experiencing discrimination has mental and physical health consequences. 

Stress and isolation are risk factors for addiction. The psychological and physical responses in the body can pose drastic effects. For example, hate crimes commonly plague the LGBTQ community. More research is required to analyze the specific effect mistreatment can play on their lives. 


It wouldn’t be surprising to understand that people in the LGBTQ community experience trauma. This trauma could have resulted from harassment or assault. A single event or prolonged mistreatment can trigger LGBTQ substance use. This trauma can form intense feelings of shame and guilt. Some people choose to self-medicate when they don’t see many available options.


Coming out with your sexuality or gender identity can be liberating yet anxiety-inducing if you don’t have the proper support. Many LGBTQ individuals struggle with this and often repress their true identity to preserve themselves. This denial of one’s authentic self can pose damage to their mental and even physical health. This can drive an LGBTQ person towards substance use.


One-fifth of LGBTQ Americans have experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender, despite variations in race and gender. 22% of LGTBQ Americans have not been paid equally or promoted at the same rates as their peers. Transgender Americans face different forms of harassment and discrimination.

Social Stigma

Homophobia and transphobia are present in society. Religion often comes into play when addressing stigmas towards the LGBTQ community. Traditional values usually encourage sex for procreation and chastity. Although there are LGBTQ-inclusive denominations, the current consensus is that homosexuality and transgenderism are wrong or unnatural.

Traditional family values can come into conflict when a family member comes out. The family may not accept or repress their loved one’s identity. This can lead to negative interactions, even homelessness for LGBTQ people. The potential risks of embracing their sexuality publically can influence their mental health.

Lack of Support

Rejection plays a significant role in the development of any person, especially those of the LGBTQ community. Conversion therapy has been used to “rewire” a person’s sexuality through talk therapy and reconditioning. These practices are recognized for their ineffectiveness and deemed unethical by the mental health community. 

LGBTQ Substance Abuse Statistics

1 in 2 LGBTQ adults struggles with substance abuse. 37.6%  of LGBTQ adults 18 and older reported past-year marijuana use, compared to 16.2% reported by the overall adult population. Opioid use in the past year (including heroin use or prescription opioid misuse) was also higher with 9% of LGBTQ adults aged 18 or older reporting use compared to 3.8% among the overall adult population. 

On top of that, 9% of sexual minority adults aged 26 or older reported misuse of prescription opioids in 2018. This was an increase from the 6.4% who reported misuse in 2017. However, there was a significant decline in past year prescription opioid misuse among sexual minority adults aged 18-25 with 8.3% reporting use in 2018.

LGBTQ people have elevated rates of tobacco use, mainly through e-cigarettes. In fact, bisexual men tend to report more tobacco use than heterosexual men.

How Does Substance Abuse Specifically Affect the LGBTQ Community?

Individuals in the LGBTQ community often enter substance abuse treatment with severe cases of addiction. LGBTQ people have an increased likelihood of co-occurring disorders or a combination of mental health and substance use disorders. It’s significant for these individuals to be screened from mental health conditions during treatment evaluation.

Severe mental illness among the age 18-25 and 26-49 LGBTQ groups have increased over the years. Major depression episodes have inspired major impacts on men and women in the LGBTQ community. Substance use disorders significantly influence suicidality among the 18-25 LGBTQ age group. 

Substance use disorders are known to increase suicide deaths among users. Individuals with a substance use disorder are 7 times more likely to die by suicide. National reports have indicated that LGBTQ youths are using substances at higher rates compared to their heterosexual counterparts. LGBTQ high school students and young adults were significantly more likely to report recent alcohol and marijuana use compared to straight peers. In contrast, data on substance use of LGBTQ individuals over the age of 18 requires more data.

How Do I Support an LGBTQ Loved One?

Educating yourself and the community on LGBTQ issues could be the first step. Another option is advocating for LGBTQ rights by writing a letter, emailing, or calling your representatives to support affirming legislation. If you have time, participate in lobby days or days of action planned by LGBTQ organizations.

Make sure to spend time with or building relationships with people who are openly accepting of LGBTQ people. You might consider joining a support group in your local area or online. Mentor LGBTQI young people or participate in LGBTQ organizations such as book clubs or sports organizations. Participating in an affirming place of prayer/worship wouldn’t hurt.

How to Stage an Intervention

Staging an intervention can be challenging for all of those involved. You may not recognize yourself or your loved one during an intervention. It’s important to reach out for help through a counselor or professional interventionist to guide you. Only involve close friends, family members, or trusted coworkers. 

Set to stage an intervention in a neutral place with the support system. Proper planning is key, so it’s best to prepare what you’re going to say before the intervention. Using “I” statements is an effective way to explain how their addiction has affected you. Providing facts about their substance use can demonstrate that you really care.

Make sure the subject is not under the influence when you stage the intervention. Outline a plan for them to enter treatment as a commitment to their recovery. Even offering to transport them to treatment is a sign of effort and dedication. 

Empower them to see this intervention as an opportunity to grow. The person may deny their use or even lash out. This can introduce intense feelings and negative interactions. A follow-up intervention might be necessary, depending on the case.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Psychotherapy and medication are some of the weapons of evidence-based practices towards substance abuse. LGBTQ substance abuse treatment introduces a more inclusive design to aid their experience. Make sure to research the facility you intend to receive treatment at. The continuum of care channels the quality of care at each stage of recovery.


Detoxification is typically the first phase of addiction recovery. Drug detox usually lasts between 7-10 days.  LGBTQ substance abuse treatment will begin by ridding the body of toxic substances. Medication can be provided to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms of moderate to severe addiction. Trained medical staff will conduct an evaluation to determine your history, frequency, and amount of substances used. 

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is an intensive approach to addiction recovery.  A patient can expect to receive treatment on a 24/7 basis, with medical staff at their side. Inpatient treatment typically takes place in a residence, hospital, or private facility. The average length of stay is 30 days, however, 90 days is recommended. 

Psychotherapy is a major component of inpatient treatment. Individual and group therapy both work to discover the core of your addiction. The cost of inpatient treatment will reflect that, to cover the costs of amenities and therapies.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment programs are a flexible model for addiction recovery. Similar to inpatient treatment, a patient can expect psychotherapy along with medication, depending on their case. The average length of treatment is 30 days. A patient can expect to spend 4-6 hours, 5 days a week in outpatient treatment. 

Outpatient treatment is best suited for those with mild to moderate cases of addiction. If you can’t commit to residential treatment due to other responsibilities, outpatient treatment would be suitable. Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) provide a more structured approach to the outpatient model. A patient can anticipate 6-8 hour sessions for 5 days a week.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment is a promising approach towards behavioral health disorders such as addiction. Co-occurring disorders can be described as a combination of mental health and substance use disorders. Substance use disorders can introduce mental health symptoms and vice versa.

It’s crucial for medical professionals to treat both disorders in order for the patient to truly heal. Maintaining sobriety is an obstacle in itself, however, mental health symptoms can intensify the need to use substances. Dual diagnosis treatment is a recently developed practice.


Sober living homes are other options for those who may need a place to stay in order to receive treatment. Sober living homes generally require that you work in order to receive care. If you’ve recently spent time in an inpatient setting, then sober living homes can help. Sober living homes are suitable for any stage of recovery. Support groups are a fundamental feature of addiction treatment. Support groups are address specific topics to deal with the common threads of your journey. 

For example, Alcoholics Anonymous has been a staple for many years. It highlights the 12-Step Program as the guiding force for addiction recovery. Meeting others in this fight can make your recovery feel less lonely. Addiction is a complex disease that robs the best part of your life. It’s important to reach out to a counselor to check your progress along the way.

Northern Jersey Recovery Can Provide Healing and Freedom

LGBTQ substance abuse is a growing issue within the community. Quality care is vital to maintaining recovery. North Jersey Recovery Center is equipped to meet the needs and challenges you face. Picture the freedom you’ll feel after undergoing this transformative experience. Addiction treatment works to heal individuals’ unique underlying causes of these behaviors. If you or a loved one are fighting substance abuse, contact us today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.