The Truth Behind the High Rates of Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ Community

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In the last decade, we have seen tremendous wins in the LGBTQ community’s journey towards equality. From the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to achieving Marriage Equality, it seems that real progress is occurring. And while these were great accomplishments, there is still a huge disparity when it comes to the overall health of LGBTQ individuals versus their heterosexual counterparts.One of the biggest health problems in the community is the increasingly high rates of substance abuse.

Did You Know…

According to reports by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the rate of substance abuse among LGBTQ people has seen a dramatic increase in recent years, particularly when it comes to crystal methamphetamine (also known as meth, speed, crank, ice, and Tina). Other drugs heavily abused in the LGBTQ community are marijuana, stimulants, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine, and GHB. Data also shows that the highest rate of substance abuse is among gay men.

What Makes LGBTQ More Vulnerable to Substance Abuse?

The data is undeniable: substance abuse is more prevalent among LGBTQ people, but why? According to the American Psychological Association, minority stress is behind it. While times have changed, members of the LGBTQ community are still the minority and face incredible amounts of discrimination and prejudice that can trigger stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders.

Think Discrimination Isn’t Happening? Think Again.

  • 43 percent of gay and 90 percent of transgender people reported experiencing discrimination and harassment at work
  • 56 percent of gay and 70 percent of transgender people reported experiencing discrimination when looking for housing
  • 64 percent of LGBTQ youth feels unsafe in school due to their sexual orientation
  • 82 percent of LGBTQ report being bullied because of their sexual orientation

Other challenges experienced by the LGBTQ community due to their sexual orientation or preference include: fear of rejection and isolation, fear of physical violence, lack of support from family and friends, and the pressure to fit into the LGBTQ party scene.

The stress and isolation that can come from discrimination often causes people to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. This is particularly true when it comes to LGBTQ youth. According to a 2014 study, 58 percent of LGBTQ youth claim that homophobia is one of the main reasons for their drug and alcohol use.

In the LGBTQ community, bars and clubs have often been safe places where people can be themselves without fear or rejection. Unfortunately, these environments make drugs and alcohol readily accessible. The desire to feel like part of the community can often cause people to abuse substances.

How to Create Change


As Dr. Petros Levounis, from Rutgers Medical School said, “with advancement of social acceptance of LGBTQ orientations and the new generations internalizing less homophobic beliefs, we should see a decrease in the rates of substance abuse.” But in order to see changes in the rate of substance abuse in the LGBTQ community, change needs to occur everywhere.


If you are looking for information and resources for the LGBTQ community, this is a great place to start. Remember, there is no such thing as health without mental health. Do not ignore the problem, get help for yourself, a friend, or loved one today.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.