New Data Shows Extent of Substance Use Among Sexual Minorities


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently released results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).  This nationally representative data provides important information on substance use and mental health issues among adults. For the first time, questions related to sexual orientation and sexual attraction were included. Questions related to gender identity however, were not included, indicating this study was not yet inclusive of trans and gender noncomforming identities.  


Among the findings were that sexual minority adults were significantly more likely to have used illicit drugs in the past year, as compared to non-LGB adults (39.1% compared to 17.1%).  And that females who identified as LGB were three times more likely to report substance use than females who did not (41.1% compared to 13.9%).


This study highlights the challenges with substance use and mental health many lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals face. While increased rates and risk of substance abuse and mental health issues among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals has been established, this is the first nationally representative, federally funded study to report this trend.


What they found


The disparities are significant. Given the stigma around substance use and addiction in our society -- and from my perspective as a therapist --I think it’s important to emphasize that substance use and/or abuse does not represent a form of moral failing, or a lack of self-control.  In fact the roots of addictive behavior are far more complex.


In the case of LGB individuals, the research suggests that this increased risk of substance abuse is due to minority stress related to coming out, social pressures, stigma and discrimination.


Comparing experiences of sexual minority individuals (defined as those that identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual), with sexual majority individuals (defined as those that identify as straight or heterosexual), revealed troubling trends. Among the findings of the 2015 NSDUH report were that:


  • Over half, 54%, of LGB young adults (18 to 25) reported substance use in the past year (compared to 36% of young adults who do not identify as LGB) 
  • Sexual minorities were more likely to have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder (15.1% compared to 7.8%)
  • 37.4% or 3.9 million sexual minority adults reported having a mental illness, with 13.1% or 1.4 million reporting a serious mental illness (significantly higher than the non-minority population, where 17.1% reported a mental illness and 3.6% reported a serious mental illness)

Some good news


One positive trend that was identified was the rates at which sexual minorities seek help at specialized treatment facilities, with 15.3% of the 1.7 million lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals seek the help they need. This is compared to 10.6% who seek specialized treatment of the 18.5 million non-LGB adults.


Getting help


If you are struggling with substance use or mental health, remember you are not alone. Mazzoni Center offers two weekly drop-in support groups for LGBTQ-identified individuals who are actively in recovery, or considering whether recovery might be for them.  In addition, we have peer counseling services, which are designed and delivered by people who have experienced both substance abuse disorder and recovery. These services are flexible, highly individualized, and offered at no cost.  


In addition, there are group meetings such as the long-running "Early Night Out," which takes place every evening at 5:30 p.m. at the Washington West Project (1201 Locust Street) designed to provide a supportive environment for LGBTQ-identified folks. 


For more information on recovery services or other counseling services at Mazzoni Center, contact our intake specialist today.  

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