LGBTQ+ Community Continues to Face Higher Rates of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness, But Help Is Available 

Published on June 6, 2022

During this Pride Month, Mountainside, an award-winning substance abuse rehabilitation center, is celebrating the LGBTQ+ community while also raising awareness that LGBTQ+ individuals continue to experience higher rates of addiction and mental illness than the general U.S. population. 

Substance abuse and mental health in the LGBTQ+ population 

Up to 25% of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals report a moderate alcohol dependency, compared to 5 to 10% of the general population. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) 

Self-reported opioid use is higher among sexual minority adults, at 9%, compared to the general adult population, at almost 4%. (National Institute on Drug Abuse) 

In mental health surveys, 47% of gay and lesbian respondents met the clinical criteria for a mood disorder, compared to 33% of heterosexual respondents. About 24% of gay and lesbian respondents met the clinical criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, while the rate for heterosexual survey participants was 14%. (Recovery Research Institute) 

Approximately 40% of transgender individuals reported attempting suicide at some point in their lives. (The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law) 

Addiction treatment and support services for the LGBTQ+ community 

Given the higher rates of substance use and mental illness in the LGBTQ+ community, it is especially critical to connect members with resources and therapeutic options. 

For LGBTQ+ individuals, addiction can develop to cope with discrimination and stigma. Those who choose not to publicly reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity often feel they are living a double life, and this can give rise to feelings of loneliness and isolation. This is especially true if people internalize negative and prejudiced beliefs about their own identity and try to actively suppress it, which can lead to feelings of intense shame. On the other hand, LGBTQ+ individuals who do “come out” to their family, friends, and local community often face rejection and abuse. In both cases, alcohol and drugs offer a way to dull emotional pain or temporarily escape from societal pressure and the anxiety it creates. 

All alcoholism and addiction rehabilitation programs within Mountainside’s continuum of care provide highly individualized treatment plans customized to meet each client’s unique needs and background. This personalized approach allows clinicians and coaches to identify and address factors such as mental health, medical issues, relationship troubles, and unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that may drive and reinforce addiction. As a result, clients gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their challenges and better understand the need to learn skills that improve all facets of their lives. 

Mountainside’s data-driven approach to individualized treatment combines clinical and wellness therapies to help members of the LGBTQ+ population cope with the special challenges they face. Counseling groups focused on inclusivity and empathy – such as the “Connections” and “Seeking Safety” groups – can help LGBTQ+ clients arrive at a place of self-acceptance and comfort in their identify for the first time. Wellness therapies, such as therapeutic art, writing, and music, allow individuals that may struggle with communicating difficult thoughts to explore and openly express their feelings in different ways. Meanwhile yoga, meditation, hikes, and other experiential therapies allow all individuals to learn and practice self-care, tools that can be used throughout one’s life to navigate difficulties and achieve a sense of balance and peace. 

Mountainside LGBTQ+ clients can also benefit from the expertise of recovery coaches, who keep in close contact with clients during the first year of their recovery journey. Coaches help establish personalized treatment plans , conduct monthly wellness checks, identify potential relapse behaviors, and counsel their client’s family members on how best to show support. They can also connect individuals in recovery to a wide range of ancillary resources, including medical, psychiatric, wellness, and legal services, and offer support for those looking to continue their education or secure employment. 

“It’s important for LGBTQ+ clients to know that at Mountainside we deeply understand their perspectives and challenges,” says Bill Blaber, director of recovery coaching. “We have members of the Mountainside staff, including on the recovery coaching team, who know from personal experience the pressures and stigmas the LGBTQ+ community faces. It makes a difference when a coach can speak directly to a client’s experience and say, ‘I’ve been there too. I’ve felt the same way.’” 

Mountainside treatment center also hosts free, virtual support groups, including an LGBTQ+ Recovery Support Group every Monday. This group provides a stigma-free and inclusive space for members of the LGBTQ+ community and offers insight into how to live a healthier, sober life, with discussions ranging from addiction and recovery to relationships to gender and sexual identity. 

As a part of its ongoing outreach to the LGBTQ+ community, Mountainside is hosting an event, “Loud and Proud,” on June 18 at Mountainside Chelsea in New York City. All ticket sales will be matched by Mountainside and donated to Live Out Loud, a non-profit providing LGBTQ+ youth with role models, resources, and opportunities to help them discover their own voice and become leaders of change.