As discrimination among LGBTQ individuals continues, youth who identify as LGBTQ may be more susceptible to addiction. Various factors are involved in LGBTQ and substance abuse and can increase the risk of drug and alcohol use among this group. Stressors like bullying and homelessness can contribute to substance abuse, but resources and support can help LGBTQ teens to recover successfully.
Increased Stressors for LGBTQ Teens
Stress is a contributing factor to teenage drug use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and LGBTQ teens may experience significant distress. One study found that LGBTQ youth bullying can cause anxiety and increase the risk of drug and alcohol abuse. LGBTQ youth, like other teens, desire to fit in with peers and they may find acceptance within social circles where drug use is common.
LGBTQ youth homelessness is another factor that can contribute to stress. These youth are at an increased risk of homelessness, which could be due to factors such as parents rejecting their sexual identity and asking them to leave home. When LGBTQ youth find themselves facing the stress of homelessness, they are more susceptible to drug and alcohol use.
Substance Abuse Among LGBTQ Teens
There are unique stressors associated with identifying as LGBTQ, which increases the risk of substance abuse among this population. In fact, LGBTQ youth statistics show that they are 27% more likely than heterosexual peers are to have used drugs or alcohol within the past month.
Teen substance abuse occurs in about 7% of those between the ages of 12 and 17. Based on the fact that LGBTQ youth are more likely to use drugs than their heterosexual peers are, it is probable that their rates of addiction are higher than 7%.
Popular Drugs Among LGBTQ Teens
LGBTQ youth are more likely to use a variety of substances, including alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, inhalants, hallucinogens, and prescription drugs not prescribed for them.
The following are the most popular drugs among LGBTQ teens:
- Alcohol: Alcohol abuse seems to be more common among LGBTQ teens compared to heterosexual teens, especially among females. The prevalence of past-month heavy alcohol use is 30% among LGBTQ girls, compared to 16.4% among their heterosexual peers. Among boys, 25.4% of those who identify as LGBTQ report past-month heavy drinking, in comparison to 19.3% among those who identify as heterosexual.
- Marijuana: Multiple studies have shown that marijuana use is common among LGBTQ youth, due to risk factors like rejection, family conflict, and homelessness.
- Amphetamines: Amphetamine abuse is prevalent among LGBTQ youth, with 24% of sexual minority youth in one sample reporting they had ever tried methamphetamine.
- Tobacco: Use of tobacco products like cigarettes and cigars is more common among LGBTQ than in youth who identify as heterosexual, especially among females who identify as lesbian or bisexual.
- Heroin: Heroin use is a concern among LGBTQ youth, with research showing that they are significantly more likely to use injection drugs.
Signs of Substance Abuse
LGBTQ youth may display warning signs of substance abuse or misuse. They may start to skip school or fail academically due to spending a significant amount of time using drugs or recovering from being under the influence. They may also begin to spend time with a new group of friends, or they might isolate themselves.
Youth who are abusing drugs also tend to show changes in behavior or extreme mood swings. In addition, it is common for youth who are using drugs to begin stealing to support drug use or to give up former activities, such as sports or clubs, in favor of using drugs.
Physical signs of substance abuse may include poor hygiene, weight loss, and symptoms of appearing under the influence. For example, teens who are impaired by drugs or alcohol may show the following physical signs:
- Slurred, incoherent speech
- Unsteady gait
- Bloodshot eyes
Treatment Considerations for LGBTQ Youth
LGBTQ youth who abuse substances may require treatment to achieve sobriety, and there are unique considerations associated with treatment services for these teens. One such consideration is LGBTQ mental health, as these youth may have co-occurring disorders.
Common Co-Occurring Disorders
Research with mental health in the LGBTQ community shows that these youth are at increased risk of depression, conduct disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, nearly one-third of LGBTQ youth report having attempted suicide during their lives. Therefore, mental health status must be considered when treating LGBTQ youth.
Parental support is another treatment consideration for LGBTQ youth. Many of them will face rejection and criticism from parents. Helping these youth to process the difficult emotions associated with parental rejection should be a goal of treatment. It is also helpful to work with parents so that they understand how valuable their support is.
If you’re wondering how to support LGBTQ youth, the answer lies in acceptance. Parents can support LGBTQ children by being accepting, using kind language and having open conversations. Parents should communicate to their children that they are willing to discuss any concerns or challenges with them. They should also encourage children to meet their expectations in ways that are not related to sexuality, such as by earning high grades in school and staying out of trouble. This level of parental support can help teens cope with the challenges of identifying as LGBTQ.
Finding LGBTQ-Specific Treatment Services
Treatment services that address the specific needs of LGBTQ youth, such as co-occurring depression and a history of stigma and rejection, can help these teens achieve lasting recovery.
Unfortunately, treatment programs tailored specifically for LGBTQ youth are limited. When seeking treatment services, it is important to specify during the intake process that the youth in question identifies as LGBTQ. This allows the staff to prepare properly and be sensitive to his or her needs.
If a teen in your life identifies as LGBTQ and is in need of treatment for addiction, Next Generation Village has caring staff who are able to take your phone call and help you access our services. We are also sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ youth. Reach out today to learn more about treatment options.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.