LGBTQ+ Community & Addiction

Written By Jeff Mahre BA MFA MLIS - April 18th, 2019
LGBTQ+ Community & Addiction

Members of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transsexual, queer) are nearly three times as  likely as their straight peers to use a controlled substance.[1]  For example, 25% of LGBTQ+s drink alcohol, while 5-10% of the general population does.[2]  We’ll discuss in this report, the unique situations that drive LGBTQ+ members to a greater increased risk for substance abuse; we’ll also discuss some of the drugs prominent in this population and their specific harms.

First, though, we’ll define some important terms and help readers understand LGBTQ+ persons and their substance abuse problems.

The LGBTQ+ Community

Most people have a pretty good idea of what the letters in the acronym LGBTQ+ stand for, but also may have trouble with a couple of the letters.  Here’s a complete rundown to clear up any possible confusion.

L-Lesbian: Women who are attracted exclusively or primarily to other women

G-Gay: While this word, in general terms, can refer to a person of either sex who is attracted to members of the same sex, in the acronym LGBTQ+ it is understood to designate gay males, since “L” refers to gay women.

B-Bi-sexual: People of either sex who are attracted to and have romantic relationships with people of either sex.

T-Transgendered: The Human Rights Campaign defines transgender as “[a]n umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth.”[3]

It is very important for people to understand how the words “gender” and “sex” are used in the Human Rights Campaign’s definition—and throughout this report.  While sex is determined by genitalia—with the two chief sexes being male and female—gender is an identity or societal role.  If a person born female assumes a gender identity as male, he is transgendered.  The majority of transgendered people have not undergone a surgery to alter their sex.

Q-Queer: This is a somewhat tricky term.  A consensus definition is that “queer” is an umbrella term for all of the concepts in the acronym “LGBTQ+” or for any variety of non-straight gender or sexual identity.  It is a reference to the idea of varied and fluid gender identities and sexual preferences.  Thus, a person who is transgendered could call himself or herself “queer,” while a bi-sexual person may as well.

This malleable concept of “queerness” is a good transition into an important idea about all LGBTQ+-related issues.  One major concept accepted and promoted by the majority of LGTBQ people is that gender and sexuality are much more complex or difficult to define than had been thought up through the first half of the first century.  This idea encompasses the notion that there is not necessarily a need for a person to commit to or adopt a major label or identity, such as bi-sexual or lesbian, or male-identifying straight transgender, etc.  One may have hard-to-define or less definitive sexual preferences or may have identities that they feel aren’t neatly described by an existing label. However, because we are all sovereign entities as individuals and all have equal rights as humans, everyone should have a right to their specific identity, meaning that none should be considered lesser than others or to be outside of what is “normal” or proper.

Stressors That Lead to Substance Abuse Among LGBTQ+

As we can see, forging and coming to terms with an identity is a major challenge for many members of the LGBTQ+ world.  If one is to identify as one gender in some ways and another in others, or to be genderless, or something in between, one has to spend time and emotional effort on these issues.  However, they also may undergo ridicule or scorn from mainstream society.

In addition to these anti-gay sentiments, LGBTQ+ people face institutional discrimination too.  The Center for American Progress reports that in 2011, up to 43% of gay people have endured discrimination or harassment in the workplace[4].

Without exhaustively listing dramatic and saddening related statistics, we’ll explain that the net effect of a whole stock of negative actions on LGBTQ+ can be a condition called Minority Stress.  Rather than stress in the traditional sense, such as feeling pressure due to an upcoming deadline, this can be thought of more as a stressor, meaning a set of conditions that drag a person down emotionally and psychologically.  Minority stress is felt by anyone who is picked on, insulted, marginalized, or discriminated against due to being outside the social norm.1

Members of the LGBTQ+ community often have strained familial relationships, including, in extreme cases, being disowned from their family at a young age and leaving home, meaning having to find hostels, shelters, or friendly homes to stay in.  The process of coming out is a particular stressor that can sometimes have long-lasting impacts.

A Culture that Promotes Substance Abuse

Within LGBTQ+ communities, we see that people often look for ways to escape alienation and the stressors that come with it.  It can involve the sort of refuge-finding that many people experience with being drunk or high or sedated.  Yet, the LGBTQ+ community provides another environment that spurs drug and alcohol abuse.

In an effort to be around accepting people, LGBTQ+ teens and adults often turn to clubs and bars exclusive to their community.  Just as raves or dance clubs frequented by straight people will include not only drink but also drugs like MDMA (ecstasy or Molly) and meth, so do LGBTQ+ gatherings.  In fact, there is a higher prevalence of drug use in the gay and lesbian culture than in the mainstream.  When people are in need of a well-defined and close-knit community, they are more prone to engaging in activities like drugs to go along with the crowd.  The experience of living, due to a sexual preference they were born with, outside the norm, removes one major barrier to drug use, the fear of straying from strict rules of proper society.



[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). 1991-2013 High School youth risk behavior survey data. youthonline/.

[2] Hunt, J (2012). Why the gay and transgender population experiences high rates of substance use. Center for

American Progress.


[3] Human Rights Campaign (n.d.) Sexual orientation and gender identity definitions. Human Rights Campaign.


[4] Burns, C and J Krehely (2011). Gay and transgender people face high rates of workplace discrimination

and harassment. Center for American Progress.