What Are Substance Use Disorders?

This article will provide an LGBTQ guide for addiction to help you learn how addiction affects the LGBTQ community as well as treatment options that are available. Substance use disorders, or SUDs, are characterized by the continual use of an addictive substance for a long time despite it having negative consequences on their life and well-being. When someone struggles with SUD, it can affect their life in many ways.

Due to many factors, such as discrimination and traumatic experiences, people in the LGBTQ+ community may be more susceptible to developing a substance use disorder. LGBTQ addiction is serious and it can yield many negative effects. Fortunately, addiction treatment for members of the LGBTQ+ community is available, and it can help people from all backgrounds get the help they need to recover.

The recovery process can be intense, but it does not have to done alone. Read on to learn more about the effects of addiction in the LGBTQ+ community and the best type of treatment options.

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What Does LGBTQ+ Mean?

LGBTQ+ is an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, and questioning, plus other groups who are part of the LGBTQ community. The LGBTQ community is built around the acceptance of different groups, and it is always evolving in ways that are more and more inclusive.

An Overview of LGBTQ+


The letter L in LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian. A lesbian is a female who experiences romantic love or attraction to other females.1


Gay is a term primarily used to refer to a homosexual person. This term usually refers to a male who experiences romantic love or attraction to other men, but lesbians may also be referred to as gay.1


The term bisexual is used to refer to someone who experiences romantic love for or attraction to both men and women.1


Another subcategory of bisexuality is called pansexuality. The term pansexual refers to someone who experiences love or attraction towards people of any gender identity.


Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to people whose gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth.1


Non-binary is a subcategory that falls under the term transgender, and non-binary refers to someone who does not identify as either male or female. Someone who is non-binary may identify with or have traits pertaining to both the male and female genders, or they may fall under a completely different category other than male or female.

Gender Non-Conforming

Similarly, gender non-conforming is term within the category of transgender. Someone who identifies as gender non-conforming doesn’t identify with gender norms. This could refer to someone who feels they have traits that are not aligned with being male and female, or it could refer to someone who doesn’t identify with the social constructs regarding what a male or a female should be.


Questioning is a term within the LGBTQ community that refers to someone who is currently questioning their gender identity or has concerns about applying a social label to themselves.1
LGBTQ Adults Stats Report


The plus at the end of LGBTQ+ refers to the many subcategories that fall under the term LGBTQ.1


Asexual is a subcategory within the LGBTQ community that refers to someone who has little or no sexual attraction or interest in sexual activity.

Gender Fluid

Gender fluid is also a subcategory within the LGBTQ community, and it refers to someone whose gender identity varies or can change from one day to the next.

LGBTQ+ Community Experiences Mental Health Issues at Higher Rates

Due to many factors, people in the LGBTQ+ community statistically experience mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD, at higher rates than other groups of people.

What are the Rates?

According to NAMI, LGBTQ adults are twice as likely to experience a diagnosable mental health condition compared to heterosexual adults. LGBTQ youth are also twice as likely to experience feelings of sadness or hopelessness, which can lead to the development of mental health problems as they grow older.2

Why Might They Be So High?

Many people who identify with as LGBTQ+ may experience discrimination, have trouble expressing themselves, or placed in situations that heighten the likelihood of them experiencing trauma, all of which can lead to mental health issues and other negative effects on their lives.

Discussing the Challenges Faced by the LGBTQ+ Community

What Are the SUD Rates for the LGBTQ+ Community?

Due to the issues and difficulties that many people in the LGBTQ+ community face, LGBTQ addiction rates are also very high. According to a 2018 survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 37.6% of LGBTQ adults reported use of marijuana in the past year, 9% reported misuse of prescription opioids, and 12.4% reported having an alcohol use disorder.3

LGBTQ addiction treatment

How Do They Compare to Other Groups?

LGBTQ adults are twice as likely to experience a substance use disorder when compared to peers who identify as heterosexual adults. LGBTQ addiction rates among high school teens are also significantly higher compared to their heterosexual peers.

What Factors Underly the Substance Use Disorder Rates?

There are many factors that form the foundation of high LGBTQ addiction rates. Factors such as increased rates of rejection, trauma, and subsequent mental health issues all contribute to members of the LGBTQ community turning towards drugs and alcohol to cope.

People in the LGBTQ community also tend to lack access to proper LGBTQ addiction treatment programs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that only 7.4% of treatment programs currently provide access to specialized LGBTQ addiction treatment, even though specialized options have shown much higher success rates in the treatment of LGBTQ drug addiction.

Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders in LGBTQ+ Populations

There are many common co-occurring disorders that can occur within the LGBTQ+ community. These co-occurring disorders can contribute to and worsen LGBTQ drug addiction rates.

Bipolar Disorder in the LGBTQ+ Community

While there has not been extensive research conducted regarding the bipolar rates amongst members of the LGBTQ+ community, some studies have concluded that LGBTQ individuals may be more susceptible to the development of bipolar disorder, along with other mental health issues. Things such as rejection, trauma, and discrimination all contribute to mental health issues that can affect people in the LGBTQ community in various ways.

PTSD in the LGBTQ+ Community

There is a lot of discrimination that occurs against LGBTQ individuals. Many individuals within the LGBTQ community are also more likely to experience violent traumatic incidents due to their decisions to express themselves in alignment with their gender identity. These violent or traumatic incidents can lead to the development of PTSD and other mental health issues.

Depression in the LGBTQ+ Community

Due to discrimination and a total lack of acceptance that people in the LGBTQ community face, many LGBTQ people are more likely to experience various symptoms of depression. A 2020 survey concluded that LGBTQ youth are 1.75 times more likely to experience symptoms compared to their peers.3

Anxiety in the LGBTQ+ Community

Members of the LGBTQ community are also more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety. Many LGBTQ people face a lot of backlash and rejection in their day-to-day lives, making it difficult to express themselves. This can lead to a lot of self-doubt, low self-esteem, and anxiety in addition to what they already endure.

Stress in the LGBTQ+ Community

A 2018 Human Rights Campaign survey showed that individuals from the LGBTQ community experience much higher stress levels compared to heterosexual individuals. 95% of LGBTQ respondents reported having trouble sleeping at night, 77% reported feeling depressed, and 26% reported that they didn’t feel safe at school.4

LGBTQ Treatment Programs

Suicide and Self-Harm in the LGBTQ+ Community

According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.5 Many LGBTQ people experience hardships every day that cause them to take life-changing actions, which is why acceptance and resources to help LGBTQ individuals is so important.

Gender Dysphoria and Addiction

Gender dysphoria involves a conflict someone has between their assigned gender and deciding which gender they identify with. People who experience gender dysphoria are also more likely to struggle with addiction. If people aren’t supportive of someone with gender dysphoria, it can lead to lowered self-esteem and feelings of rejection that make someone more susceptible to lean on drugs and alcohol to cope. This, in turn, leads to higher rates of LGBTQ drug addiction.

Eating Disorders in the LGBTQ+ Community

Research has shown that approximately half of all LGBTQ individuals may struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life.6 Many people in the LGBTQ community experience discrimination regarding their personal image, which often contributes to the development of an eating disorder.

Psychosis in the LGBTQ+ Community

Members of the LGBTQ community are also more likely to experience psychosis or severe mental illnesses compared to heterosexual people. This is often due to discrimination, high rates of trauma, and a lack of mental health treatment resources specifically designed for LGBTQ individuals.

How do You Treat These Co-Occurring Disorders During Addiction Treatment?

During LGBTQ addiction treatment, a diagnosis protocol must be put in place to diagnose both the addiction and any other co-occurring disorders that an individual may be experiencing. Both the addiction and the co-occurring disorder should be treated at the same time during LGBTQ addiction treatment in order to get the best results.

How Do Psychiatrists and Other Specialists Help Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders?

Psychiatrists and other specialists can help with co-occurring disorders in many ways during LGBTQ addiction treatment. Psychiatrists are trained to properly diagnose and treat underlying conditions that an individual may have. Continued therapy and other resources can be used throughout treatment in order to get the best results in treating both the addiction and co-occurring conditions. It is imperative that both disorders are treating alongside one another because the two issues could feed into one another.

A Further Discussion on Addiction and the LGBTQ+ Community

What Substances Are Most Abused in the LGBTQ+ Community?

There are many common substances that may be abused in the LGBTQ+ community. Many addictive substances may be used as a way of coping or trying to destress due to the many difficulties that LGBTQ members face in their day-to-day lives. Self-medicating with substances in this manner can be dangerous and result in many negative consequences.


LGBTQ members can be more susceptible to alcohol addiction. When someone undergoes high amounts of stress, it can be easy to lean on alcohol and get into the habit of binge drinking. Alcohol is a substance that is commonly used to cope with mental health issues or traumatic experiences that may be causing someone distress.


Stimulant drugs may also be abused by LGBTQ members. Mental health issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, can cause insomnia, which might make someone want to lean on stimulant drugs for energy. Stimulants can be very addictive as they have the potential to cause a myriad of negative effects and undesirable impacts on someone’s life.


Opioid addiction is also more common amongst the LGBTQ community. Opioid addiction affects many people every year, especially those who try to use opioids as a recreational substance or to self-medicate when dealing with various other underlying conditions.


Benzodiazepines are commonly used for the treatment of anxiety. Those who are part of the LGBTQ community may be more prone to developing anxiety when benzodiazepine medications are prescribed. Misuse of these substances can be very harmful to someone’s health and well-being.
LGBTQ Community Stats

Challenges the LGBTQ+ Community Faces

The LGBTQ community can be very stigmatized, and members may face a lot of challenges in their everyday lives.
Challenges the LGBTQ+ Community Faces


Many LGBTQ members face a lot of discrimination in their daily lives. Many who come out to their families face rejection and negative feedback from family members. Other LGBTQ members also face discrimination every day at work, school, or even in their social lives.


There is a harsh stigma that surrounds the LGBTQ community. Many people still don’t understand what the community means to its members or how their stigmas affect LGBTQ people in their everyday lives. This stigmatism affects LGBTQ members in many ways and can make them lean on drugs or alcohol as a way to cope.


Many LGBTQ members also suffer abuse due to their sexual or gender identity. Physical or emotional abuse as a result of discrimination can be very traumatizing for LGBTQ members and can lead to long lasting effects on their mental health and well-being.


LGBTQ members often face rejection from those who don’t understand them or their self-expression of their gender identity. This can lead to low levels of self-esteem and can affect someone’s well-being in many ways.


Many LGBTQ members face discrimination at work or may even struggle to find work which leads to higher levels of unemployment. This can affect someone’s feelings of self-worth and lead to many negative thoughts or actions.


There are also high rates of homelessness amongst the LGBTQ community. Due to struggles with mental illness, addiction, and severe trauma many LGBTQ members may struggle in their everyday lives. This can make it tough for them to hold a job or function normally due to not receiving the proper help and support they needed.

Trauma-Informed Care Approach in Addiction Treatment

Trauma informed care should be put in place during LGBTQ addiction treatment since LGBTQ individuals are much more likely to experience trauma at some point during their lives. This helps ensure the comfort and security of patients during the treatment process by understanding their trauma and how it affects them.


Trauma informed care helps patients realize how trauma has affected their thoughts and actions. During the treatment process, care providers should ensure that they realize how trauma has affected their patient and help them work through any issues the trauma may have caused within their lives.


Care that is trauma-informed also helps patients and care providers recognize the effects of trauma so they can work through underlying issues and begin to learn how to cope with the effects that trauma have had.


The trauma informed care approach works to help patients and care providers learn how to respond to the effects of trauma to treat it and prevent it from worsening.

Avoid Re-traumatization

During treatment care providers should ensure that they avoid re-traumatization. Learning about patients and how trauma has affected them can help make the treatment process a better experience.

Addiction Treatment Options

The are many LGBTQ addiction treatment options available that can help.


Detox is one of the first steps in the treatment process. When someone first stops taking an addictive substance, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. Treatment centers can help patients get through this difficult period of the recovery process and make it as safe and as comfortable as possible.


Inpatient treatment involves staying at a treatment center for a duration of time while detoxing, receiving therapy, and working on a long-term plan for success. Inpatient treatment is a good option by putting patients in a stable environment that is away from temptations.


For those who struggle with an addiction that is less severe, outpatient treatment may be a good option. Outpatient rehab will allow you to continue living at home, so you don’t have to neglect family or work responsibilities while receiving treatment. Outpatient treatment requires that you go to a treatment center at designated times throughout the week to work on a treatment plan and receive therapy.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication assisted treatment may also be used during the treatment program to help ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent a relapse from occurring. Many medications have been studied, tested, and developed to make the treatment process easier and more effective.