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12 Reasons LGBT Teens Are at Greater Risk for Substance Abuse

Teen substance abuse

The notion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individuals abusing drugs or alcohol is not an arbitrary stereotype. According to a report released in October of 2016 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), almost two out of every five LGBT adults surveyed had consumed illicit drugs in the previous year. That is more than double the rate of the just over 1 in 6 heterosexual adults who gave the same response.

These trends are found among the teenaged LGBT population as well. Here are a dozen reasons why LGBT teens are more at risk for substance abuse than their heterosexual counterparts:

  1. They tend to experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness. A recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual students are much more likely to feel sad or hopeless than their heterosexual peers.
  2. They have more suicidal thoughts. The same survey discovered that LGBT students are anywhere from two to three times as likely to think about (or commit) suicide than heterosexual students.
  3. They tend to drink more alcohol.
    Various studies indicate that gay, lesbian, and bisexual teenagers consume alcoholic beverages more frequently than non-LGBT teens.
  4. They tend to self-medicate. LGBT individuals often respond to their problems or negative feelings by self-medicating with marijuana or alcohol so that they do not have to feel any pain.
  5. There is strong comorbidity of mental illness with the LGBT community. Lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual individuals are much more likely to suffer from various psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, a mood disorder, an eating disorder, or depression.
  6. There is a lack of acceptance of their orientation at school and elsewhere. Peer pressure can be challenging for any teen, but it is an even larger issue for LGBT adolescents who are dealing with discrimination or perceived discrimination at school.
  7. They are more likely to be victims of bullying. The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that more than a third of LGBT teens were targets of bullying at school and 28 percent of them were cyberbullied; both of these numbers were higher than those for heterosexual teens.
  8. They are at an increased risk of sexual violence. The same survey found that between 18 percent and 23 percent of LGBT adolescents were victims of sexual dating violence, physical dating violence, and/or forced sexual intercourse.
  9. They frequently battle internalized homophobia. This term refers to the condition where LGBT teenagers begin to accept the social and sexual stigmas as part of their self-concepts.
  10. They struggle with their families’ rejection of their orientation. A study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing found that LGBT teens who felt strongly rejected by their families were 3.5 times more likely to turn to drugs than their counterparts who experienced no familial rejection.
  11. They battle the consequences of sexually-transmitted diseases. It is often a disastrous cycle; LGBT teens turn to drugs, contract an STD through unprotected sex or unhygienic needle use, and continue to abuse drugs as a crude coping mechanism for their adverse health conditions.
  12. They often cannot find substance abuse treatment that is tailored to their needs. Many treatment facility personnel are not trained to cater to LGBT substance abusers, which can result in failed treatment regimens and relapses.

Teen substance abuse

Given this heightened risk for substance abuse among LGBT teenagers, there is a growing need for treatment programs which are flexible enough to meet the needs of this subset of the addict population. A comprehensive, evidence-based approach which promotes self-respect, healthy behaviors, and collective decision-making among parents, health professionals, and service providers will help LGBT adolescents suffering from substance abuse to acknowledge their addictions, embrace their recovery programs, and remain sober throughout their teen and adult lives.

If you need advice on talking to your teenagers about drug abuse, contact us today.

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