Study after study has shown that people in the LGBTQ+ community are at heightened risk for developing not only substance use disorder, but also co-occurring mental health concerns. These studies have also tracked the underlying causes of these issues.

Set up for Addiction

While being LGBTQ+ itself is not the reason people within the queer community experience higher degrees of mental illness and addiction, it is no mere coincidence that people who are sexual minorities are at risk before they even reach adulthood:

  • LGBTQ+ teens are twice as likely as their non-LGBTQ+ peers to be bullied, assaulted, or excluded in school.
  • LGBTQ+ teens are around 40 percent less likely to have a supportive adult in their family than peers who identify as heterosexual and cisgender.
  • Societal stigma and harassment are also contributing factors to LGBTQ+ people developing substance use disorder.

How High is the Risk?

Largely because of the adverse experiences listed above:

Gay and lesbian youth are around twice as likely to struggle with their mental health and use alcohol and illicit substances, compared to heterosexual peers. A recent study by the Trevor Project shows higher rates of marijuana and alcohol use among LGBTQ+ youth.

  • Trans youth are at 2.5 to 4 times higher risk for substance use compared to cisgender peers.
  • LGBTQ+ youth, in general, are also at heightened risk for using multiple substances, which increases the dangers they face from substance use.
  • If an LBGTQ+ youth experiences conversion therapy, an intervention that attempts to “cure” the young person of their sexual preferences, their likelihood of becoming a regular user of alcohol or marijuana or of misusing prescription medication increases.

Because a person’s brain does not finish developing until they are in their mid-twenties, the likelihood of the person becoming dependent upon substances is higher if they start young. Substance use can also trigger or exacerbate mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It is estimated that around 60-75 percent of adolescents who are struggling with their mental health have a co-occurring issue with substance use.

People who struggle with addiction are also more likely to attempt suicide and are around 7 times more likely to die by suicide.

How Loved Ones Can Help

Whether you are the family member or friend of an LGBTQ+ person or just concerned about mental health and addiction in that community, there are steps you can take to reduce their risks: 

  • Express affection – continue to show love and support for people who come out to you.
  • Support the person’s identity – use the name and pronouns that the person uses for themselves. Support them in accessing clothing, make-up and other items that help them feel more comfortable with their appearance.
  • Advocate for LGBTQ+ people – require other people in your life to treat LGBTQ+ people with respect and kindness.
  • Welcome the person’s friends and partners – make your home a safe haven for the “chosen family” of the LGBTQ+ people your friend or family member cares about.
  • Connect your child with a positive LGBTQ+ role model – allow your child to see that people like them grow up to live normal, healthy, happy lives.
  • Talk with your faith community – help them to be more supportive of LGBTQ+ people.
  • Educate yourself about and get involved in the LGBTQ+ community.

If you would like more information about supporting LGBTQ+ people in your life or you would like to link a loved one to specific supports, there are a number of resources that can help:

  • PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)  is a national organization that provides education and support to people who care about the LGBTQ+ community. There are several local chapters of PFLAG within Virginia.
  • The National Black Justice Coalition is an organization that exists to empower LGBTQ+ people who are Black.
  • The Trevor Project is a program that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ+ young people.
  • The Human Rights Campaign is a national organization that seeks to increase inclusion and equality for LGBTQ+ people.
  • Equality Virginia is a group that seeks to advance LGBTQ+ protections, empower trans people and work toward equality for all, within the state of Virginia.

Please reach out to learn more about how Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, provides support to LGBTQ+ guests and their families.