Can Substance Abuse Be Prevented?
Along with unique issues like institutional discrimination, the LGBT community as a whole suffers from higher-than-average rates of substance abuse and addiction. In fact, the rate of substance abuse (including the use of illicit drugs as well as excessive drinking) in the LGBT community is two to three times higher than the national average.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the general population abuses drug and alcohol at a rate of 9% while the LGBT community suffers from a staggering 20-30% rate of substance abuse in their specific population. Clearly, the need for substance abuse prevention strategies in the LGBT community is serious.
So, can substance abuse be prevented?
We explore possible approaches to help serve people at risk of addiction in the LGBT community here. Then, we invite your participation at the end. Please send us your questions or feedback! We do our best to respond to anyone who takes the time to reach out.
Why Such High Rates of Substance Abuse?
There are a few different factors contributing to such high rates of substance abuse in the LGBT community. Issues like:
- higher rates of homelessness
- interpersonal violence
- sexual abuse
…contribute to the development of substance use problems for many in the community. This is compounded with societal and institutional discrimination, family rejection for many, and a lack of safe, drug-free spaces to create staggering levels of addiction and substance abuse.
Substance abuse prevention strategies in the LGBT community must go beyond the norm. Education is key, but it doesn’t cut to the core of the many reasons that substance abuse is such a problem for the LGBT community as a whole.
As with the general population, simply arresting people for drug use won’t work, either. The most effective substance abuse prevention strategies for the LGBT community must incorporate grassroots-level initiatives as well as approaches that are informed by the real, specific issues faced by this particular subset of the population.
Facing the Core Issues
Any strategies for substance abuse prevention for the LGBT community must come from a place of understanding of the specific core issues faced by so many members of this group. LGBT-identifying people suffer higher rates of homelessness, sexual abuse, domestic and interpersonal violence, bullying, and isolation than does the general population.
1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), LGBT youth are at a greater risk of bullying, social rejection, and violence at school.
2. LGBT adults are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse, assault, or intimate partner violence than heterosexual and cisgender peers (CDC).
3. A disproportionate number of homeless youth are LGBT-identifying (The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School).
4. LGBT people are more likely to be estranged from immediate family (CBS News).
5. In many states, LGBT people still face legal discrimination from employers, businesses, and even elected officials, which can contribute to feelings of rejection, anger, hopelessness, and frustration.
Substance abuse prevention strategies must be initiated with an understanding of these unique risk factors. Strategies that increase the funding and reach of social outreach programs, such as homeless shelters that are LGBT-friendly, are a big step toward reducing the level of substance abuse within the community.
Strategies That Address Risk Factors
In this same vein, strategies that mitigate the negative effects of the above-listed experiences could significantly reduce substance abuse in the LGBT population. Interventions to consider include:
- Assistance programs for people who have been victims of domestic or sexual abuse.
- Access to mental health care services.
- Advocacy for an end to legal discrimination against LGBT people.
- Anti-bullying campaigns.
These can all make progress in reducing some of the effects of rejection and abuse that many LGBT people face. Offering healthy solutions and support to people who have faced these sort of challenges can offer a better solution to many people who feel that drugs and alcohol are their only escape.
Safe Places for the LGBT Community
One of the major reasons that so many people in the LGBT community turn to drugs and alcohol is that there is a lack of safe spaces for LGBT-identifying people in the broader public. What this means is that, oftentimes, the only social environment in which LGBT people can meet one another, have fun, and be themselves are dedicated LGBT safe spaces. The majority of these designated LGBT spaces are places like gay bars and dance clubs. While these venues provide much-needed spaces for LGBT to meet and socialize, they often go hand-in-hand with alcohol and drug use.
For many young LGBT people who are just beginning to explore their identity, gay bars and clubs provide an opportunity to come out of their shell and be themselves, to make friends, and to find romantic partners. However, they also involve a lot of opportunities to drink and use drugs. Unfortunately, the social and romantic life of an LGBT person can easily become tied up with substance abuse.
Making more safe spaces in the community that don’t involve the use of alcohol or drugs can do wonders for substance abuse prevention.
One example is Pride marches.
These events happen in nearly every major American city and town every year. They’re a chance for LGBT people to gather, to celebrate their sexuality and gender identities, to meet one another, to mourn losses in the community, and to advocate for social and economic justice for the LGBT community. The inclusion of sober spaces in these events, such as tents run by sober LGBT people and alcohol-free zones at parades can offer a safe space for people to participate in Pride while still avoiding drug use or drinking.
LGBT community centers can also offer substance-free events and gathering spaces for people who need community connection without drugs and alcohol. LGBT support groups and alternative support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, can offer a place for LGBT people to connect with one another and still avoid substance use.
It’s About Offering Multiple Approaches
Ultimately, substance abuse prevention within the LGBT community requires multiple approaches geared toward addressing the reasons for substance abuse in the community, as well as alternative safe spaces for LGBT people to live and express themselves without the pressure of drinking and drug use.