Let’s Take a Hard Look at Substance Abuse Issues Within the LGBTQ Community
As members of the LGBTQ community, we face a number of challenges in our lives. From the start, members of our community are presented with challenges and obstacles that straight people never encounter: living under a false sexual identity, coming out to our friends and family, having to live with people’s altered perspectives, the potential ostracism, etc. Straight people never have to pretend to be gay. They never have to reveal to their family that they are, in fact, straight. They don’t have to fear that revealing their true sexual orientation and being their true selves will cause people’s perceptions of them to radically change.
LGBTQ people don’t only face these challenges but are also more likely to suffer from mental illness, particularly depression, than the general population, most likely due to the stigmas and prejudices faced daily. This could very likely also be one of the reasons people in our community are an estimated three times more likely to use illicit drugs.
When one compares drug use in the LGBTQ community and drug use by heterosexuals, the results are less than shocking (knowing what our community goes through), but heartbreaking all the same. Members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to use drugs at a younger age, use drugs longer, start with a hard drug, try more drugs and start as a result of depression/loneliness than heterosexual individuals.
Twelve percent of people identifying as LGBTQ began using illicit substances before age 14 (as compared to 7% of heterosexuals), and 35% (as compared to 32% of straight respondents) started between the ages of 14 and 17. Drug use can have especially detrimental effects on young people who are still developing, and the fact that so many in the LGBTQ community begin using at such young ages is cause for concern. This goes to show how much social stress is put on our community starting at a very young age.
In addition to beginning to use drugs incredibly young, members of our community are more likely to use drugs for an extended period of time. While only 35% of heterosexuals use for six or more years, 43% of LGBTQ people responded as using for six or more years. Also, 31% of LGBTQ people began using with a hard drug like cocaine, opioids, meth, mushrooms, LSD and heroin, compared to 19% of heterosexuals. Also, on average, LGBTQ people have tried 23% more drugs than heterosexuals.
It’s easy to place all the blame on the society we live in and the social distress, anxiety and depression this causes in LGBTQ people, but we also have to consider how drug use is encouraged in our culture.
Many have partaken in the “Party and Play” scene that, while very enjoyable and for many a sanctuary of belongingness, can cause people to lower their inhibitions and partake in using drugs such as crystal meth and ecstasy. These parties offer a sense of belonging and community that many struggle to find in everyday society. We need to make sure, though, that we are also nourishing communities of support and stableness that don’t encourage activities with a potential to lead some members down dangerous paths.
While we have seen an immense change in the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ people in society in recent years, there is still a noticeably long way to go. The emotional and mental distress suffered by our community members doesn’t end at that but can extend to substance abuse, which leads to a mess of other problems that come with addiction. It’s important that we as a community are not only tirelessly working to fight for our rights and to end discrimination against us, but are also offering endless support to members of our community, especially young people who have recently taken hold of their identity and have chosen to embrace their true self.