LGBT addiction recovery and resources
High risks of addiction
LGBT health experts agree that discrimination, isolation, and other social pressures increase the risk for LGBT individuals, particularly LGBT youth, to use drugs and alcohol to reduce and cope with stress. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) have found that:
- LGBT people are more likely to use alcohol and drugs and to continue heavy drinking into later life.
- LGBT community members are more likely to have higher rates of substance use disorders and less likely to abstain from using alcohol and drugs.
- Meth use, in particular, is a significant problem in the LGBT community.
- LGBT individuals frequently experience alienation due to lack of acceptance and support from their families of origin. Alienation and isolation often create emotional distress and can become risk factors for mental health problems.
Help is out there!
To learn more about how LGBT people can find help for drug and alcohol problems, we’ve turned to one of the nation’s experts, Jeff Zacharias. Jeff is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) and Certified Advanced Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Counselor (CAADC) with extensive clinical experience in both the mental health and addictions fields. He’s given dozens of talks about the intersection of addiction in the LGBT community and offers both hope and connection to people who need help.
LGBT addiction recovery is possible
In this interview, we ask Jeff about his working experience. He provides us with insight into the problems in the community and how we can address them together.
So how can you get help for addiction if you’re a member of the LGBT community? Read more about addiction treatment for LGBT community in this interview. At the end, we invite your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. We’ll try to respond to all questions with a personal and prompt reply.
ADDICTION BLOG: Let’s start with goals. What’s your vision for the LGBTQI community in terms of addressing chemical and process addiction(s)?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: My vision for the LGBTQI community in terms of addressing chemical and process addiction(s) is educating the entire community and our allies on the interplay of mental health issues, trauma and addictions whether to substances or behavioral in nature. I would like to see the LGBTQI, family and friends be able to recognize when someone they are about is in trouble and get them help immediately.
Informing others needs to be done from a non-judgmental and non-shaming framework as addiction thrives in judgment and shame. Many members of the LGBTQI community have learned very early on that they must live in the shadows in order just to survive rather than be their true authentic self as LGBTQI. The shadows lend themselves to seeking out maladaptive coping skills to deal with their internalize shame and addictions become a way to do that. A double bind of this entire picture is having to “come out “ to self and others as LGBTQI and having an addiction(s) and/or mental health issues.
ADDICTION BLOG: How can people who identify as LBGTQI seek help for addiction? Who is it safe to ask help from?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: In the age of technology, it’s easier to find help than it ever has been. The issue of safety in seeking help is more difficult. Many large urban cities have a variety of options to begin the process of healing:
- LGBTQI community centers
- treatment providers whether agencies or individual clinicians
- clubhouses that conduct LGBTQI- specific support group meetings
…and so forth
In more rural areas, the options can be significantly less easily accessed as there may not be a variety of LGBTQI affirming options. It might be a case of seeking the best option for someone who is sensitive and affirming and even then may be difficult to heal from multiple issues.
It’s not good enough for the LGBTQI community to seek out “good enough.” We need to have strongly trained clinicians in LGBTQI dynamics throughout the world so everyone has the same opportunities for growth.
In the meantime, just reach out to whoever will listen. Do internet searches for LGBTQI addiction treatment providers, call cities with established providers and ask for suggestions in your area, do whatever it takes to get what you deserve.
ADDICTION BLOG: What kinds of national or state resources currently exist to connect people with addiction services?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: Nationally, I would suggest going to the SAMHSA website (www.samhsa.gov) and using their behavioral health locator. You can filter out treatment options that have LGBTQI affirming services.
Go to the NALGAP (National Association of Gay and Lesbian Addiction Providers) website and see what’s in your area. Contact anyone on that listserv including the Board of Directors and they can help you find options.
Each state differs in what treatment options there are. Contact the state governing body for addiction counselors and ask questions. Contact the state offices of NASW and similar organizations. Look for LGBTQI affirming clinicians in your state.
It might take a little creativity in your searches for help but there’s networks of providers out there who are dedicated to working extensively with the LGBTQI community. Contact me and I’ll be glad to help you start the search for services!!
ADDICTION BLOG: What are some of the common challenges or barriers LGBT people face when seeking help for addiction? How can these be overcome?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: Common challenges and barriers are services who don’t take into account the person as a whole. A strong provider will work with a variety of things including:
- the interplay of multiple addictions
- mental illness and it’s impact on addiction
- gender specific treatment options
- oppression/power/privilege and its impact on a persons life
- cultural and ethnic differences between individuals
- trauma and how it drives addiction
- medical issues including HIV appropriate services
- linkages to community resources such as support groups, sober clubs and other wrap around services
Additionally, there’s an assumption from clinicians on what it means to be LGBTQI and providers need to do their own internal examinations of biases and stereotypes as well as external trainings on how best to work most effectively with the LGBT community.
ADDICTION BLOG: Trauma fuels addiction. How is trauma addressed in LGBT addiction recovery and what does the process look like?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: Trauma and addiction fuel each other so they must be addressed concurrently in treatment. Trauma is insidious and comes about whether in singular one time events or chronic daily traumas that aren’t really recognized as such. A strong treatment provider will work from a strong trauma informed perspective while being gender responsive and taking into account all the challenges previously shared here.
ADDICTION BLOG: How often is sex addiction/compulsive sexual behavior concurrent with drug or alcohol abuse in the LGBT community? Are these issues addressed simultaneously or individually?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: Again, it’s treating individuals from a whole person perspective. In order to heal we need to get a handle on all the processes impacting a person’s life. Safety should come first and foremost and then slowly and with purpose we start peeling the layers of the onion back.
Sex addiction is a hot button topic particularly in the LGBTQI community where so much shame is tied into sexual expression. I want to be very careful not to re-traumatize my clients by adding a diagnosis to them that they’re not ready to take on. However, if the diagnosis is appropriate then it’s up to a clinician to present it in a way that the client can hear and absorb.
Expression of sexuality should be approached from a neutral place by the clinician and then allow the client to be the teacher. An area that’s most impacted by sexual addiction/compulsivity is with individuals who use meth, are sexually compulsive and using GPS enabled apps to find drugs/sex. It’s an Unholy Trinity in my book and all avenues with this demographic are explored in order to get their lives back on track.
ADDICTION BLOG: Do you think changing location during addiction treatment helps address chemical and behavioral dependency? Do people find recovery relatively easy or difficult in their home cities?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: This all depends on what’s available locally. Oftentimes there’s an additional financial barrier to services so my hope would be that treatment could be provided at affordable costs to everyone who needs it.
ADDICTION BLOG: Can you share with us some experience, strength, and hope for LGBT recovery?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: I’m glad to do so!
I have been in recovery for 12 years from crystal meth. Prior to my seeking treatment it felt like life was hopeless. I grew up in a part of the country which hasn’t been traditionally welcoming to the LGBTQI community let alone have many options for services.
When I was at that point of crisis and knew I had to make changes, there weren’t any options for a person with no money. I found a provider that did they best they could but there was always a piece missing there for me of what my experience as a gay man looked like. I found an amazing therapist and welcoming community after that which made all the difference.
Even in a major urban city like Chicago, there always was a need for more services with different levels of care to cater specifically to the LGBTQI community. When my mother passed away and left an inheritance, my husband and I purchased New Hope Recovery Center and made it our mission to heal our community in all ways. We believe in holistic healing for the entire community impacted by addiction, trauma and mental health issues and if we aren’t the correct provider, we WILL help people to find answers and solutions appropriate for their entire person.
ADDICTION BLOG: What are some key affirmations that we can repeat to ourselves to keep us motivated and on track?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: Early in my recovery I heard Oprah say on one of her shows “You are not your mistakes. You are your possibilities.” That has always stuck with me and has been a guidepost throughout my recovery.
I love the affirmation “It Gets Better.” It really does if you just hold on and don’t use NO MATTER WHAT!
ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
JEFF ZACHARIAS: If I can stay sober then I know everyone out there can. It’s not always easy that’s for sure. Ask for help from people that want you to be well. If you don’t ask then you can’t get! Be brave and strong and know there’s help out there.
I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t possible to get the help you need and deserve. You deserve the best life has to offer free of your addiction and surrounded by people who care deeply about you.