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LGBTQ+ Community & Substance Use

LGBTQ+ populations have struggled with addiction for centuries. In modern history, due to Homosexuality being listed as a mental illness until 1987, and being illegal in many states, people who identified as LGBTQ+ were forced into bars, taverns, and clubs in order to find romantic companionship and social interaction. Even today, most LGBTQ+ events are held at bars and clubs, where alcohol consumption and drug use are rampant.


The Stonewall Inn Riots, which has come to symbolize the Gay Liberation Movement of the 70’s, began after New York police raided a bar for gay men, transgender women, drag queens and lesbians in 1969. It was a keystone of the American movement for LGBTQ+ equality - and it all began in a bar, in a place where LGBTQ+ people felt safe. Due to the safety of bars and clubs as a place to freely express oneself as an LGBTQ+ person, the community began to associate safety and freedom of expression with drugs and alcohol, thus creating a toxic breeding ground for addiction.


There are few studies done on addictions in the LGBTQ+ population and most studies have been done on gay men, which isolates others in the community – the research is lacking for us to adequately understand the impact of addiction in lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual/aromantic, nonbinary, and transgender communities among many others under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. In 2009, The National Institute of Health only provided 0.5% of their funds to LGBTQ+ studies, and of that number, 82% of it went toward studying sexual activity risks and HIV in adult gay men. A study done by Marshal et al. in 2009 found that 20-30% of gay men in the community abuse alcohol, compared to the general population’s 9% rate. Men who have sex with men are 12.2 times more likely to use amphetamines. Men who have sex with men are also 9.5 times more likely to use heroin. Studies also show that LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely to use substances than the general population.


Alcohol vendors often target and cater to LGBTQ+ populations, often being sponsors of Pride events. In the Cincinnati area, Pinnacle Vodka is a large sponsor for Pride. Many companies use advertisements geared towards people who identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum to normalize alcohol consumption within the community and at community events. Some companies, such as Absolut Vodka, create special “Pride” packaging on their products to manipulate those who are a part of the community and to demonstrate allyship – boosting sales within the LGBTQ+ community.

Due to Minority Stress, many LGBTQ+ people turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with the discrimination, stigma, and family rejection they experience in their lives and throughout society. In 2013, 67% of documented hate crimes were committed against transgender women of color. The Human Rights Campaign reported that 92% of LGBTQ+ youth reported “hearing negative things about being LGBTQ+.” 49% of transgender persons have reported attempting suicide. It is no surprise that people within the community use substances in an attempt to cope with the amount of negativity they experience.

LGBTQ+ people also struggle when they seek drug and alcohol treatment. Social workers report struggling with prevention in youth settings, and many agencies do not educate clinicians adequately on the LGBTQ+ community, the diversity within the community, and the barriers they face in safely navigating society and treatment. LGBTQ+ people have lower rate of treatment completion due to struggling with finding a facility in which they feel safe and empowered. Many times, transgender people in addiction can be placed in residential settings with others of the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than their actual gender, which results in bullying, gender dysphoria, and isolation from peers.


The LBGTQ+ community had essentially been conditioned into addiction. Between minority stress, companies targeting the population, and treatment facilities not acknowledging the unique needs of LGBTQ+ clients, it can be a struggle for LGBTQ+ people to get into recovery. GLAST is ready to change

that. Between empathy, education, evidence-based treatment, and utilizing the wisdom of those who have struggled with addiction, GLAST is prepared to evolve the statistics to favor recovery rates of the LGBTQ+ community. We work to educate community agencies to provide more effective treatment of LGBTQ+ clients, to advocate for those struggling with addiction, and to make a difference for our community. 


Kristin Nunnemaker, CDCA

GLAST, INC.

Training & Education