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Sexual Minority Youths and Addiction Treatment: Why a Tailored Approach Is Needed

Two young women

Question: How is addiction treatment like a man’s suit?

Answer: When it is tailored to an individual, the results tend to be a lot better.

This holds true for those with substance use disorder who are also part of the LGBTQ community.

Substance Misuse More Prevalent Among LGBTQ+ Teens

Substance use in the LGBTQ+ community is a significant problem in the U.S. today, according to research conducted by Sarah S. Dermody of Oregon State University. The study, which appears in the November 2018 edition of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found that youth who identified as gay or lesbian were more at risk of using marijuana and nicotine products than their non-sexual-minority classmates. Furthermore, Dermody’s study revealed that bisexual youth were more likely to consume alcohol, marijuana and nicotine products.

In addition, a Chapman University study that was published in April of 2017 in theJournal of School Health illustrated how transgender adolescents were at increased risk of substance misuse. Specifically, the research showed a higher likelihood of the use of marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamines, inhalants, prescription pain medication and ecstasy among transgender students.

Additional research involving LGBTQ+ youth also paints a concerning picture. Adolescents in this category are at an elevated risk of feeling sad or hopeless, having suicidal thoughts, self-medicating, being victimized by bullying, becoming victims of sexual violence, suffering from a mental illness, or contracting a sexually-transmitted disease. As a result, these teens are more likely to turn to alcohol or illicit substances in order to cope with these deleterious conditions.

Unique Needs of Sexual Minority Youth

So why is a tailored approach to addressing substance misuse in the LGBTQ+ community better than a conventional, one-size-fits-all drug treatment program?

For one thing, LGBTQ+ youth tend to struggle with societal stigmas more than their heterosexual peers. Not only must these teenagers deal with the negative perceptions which accompany addiction, but they also frequently worry about perceived prejudice related to their sexual orientation. If LGBTQ+ substance misusers are to achieve meaningful and lasting sobriety, both of these issues must be addressed during treatment.

In addition, LGBTQ+ adolescents may wrestle with other risk factors that do not typically affect heterosexual teens in treatment. These include:

  • Fear or anxiety pertaining to publicly revealing their LGBT status
  • Guilt or shame about being different from their peers
  • Socialization pressures in the LGBTQ+ community (such as using recreational drugs or spending time in bars and clubs)
  • Internalized or social homophobia
  • Resistance from their parents or family members related to their sexuality
  • Tenets or teachings from their religious upbringing that condemn homosexuality

LGBT-Focused Treatment Works

The good news is that LGBTQ-centered treatment appears to be more effective for sexual minority teens than conventional methods. A study published in 2010 in the journal Substance Misuse & Abuse revealed that gay or bisexual men with a substance use disorder who underwent LGBTQ+ specialized treatment exhibited higher success rates than gay or bisexual men who participated in “traditional” addiction treatment programs.

Young man with counselor.

If you are the parent of a sexual minority teen who is struggling with alcohol or drug dependence, it is recommended that you find an LGBTQ+ addiction treatment program that focuses on your child’s specific needs. You should also temper your expectations and aim for incremental progress in recovery instead of hoping for a sudden or drastic positive change. Finally, be especially vigilant for signs of suicidal thoughts or activity since LGBT individuals are at greater risk of suicide than their heterosexual peers.

The sad truth is that there is a scarcity of LGBT-tailored addiction treatment programs available in the U.S. right now. Until this issue is addressed properly, many LGBTQ+ youths will not be able to receive the precise treatment they need to conquer their addiction and begin their journey toward recovery and emotional health.

If your teen is struggling with a substance use disorder and you need someone with whom to discuss the situation, contact Next Generation Village. Our compassionate staff can help you find appropriate treatment options for your teen.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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