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Why Do LGBT Teens Have A Higher Substance Abuse Risk?

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Why Do LGBT Teens Have A Higher Substance Abuse Risk?

Why Do LGBT Teens Have A Higher Substance Abuse Risk?

Adolescence is a time of change and self-discovery. For some teens this change involves experimentation with substances, or perhaps even the development of alcohol or drug addiction. That seems to be particularly true for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens, a group that shows alarming rates of substance abuse and addiction. If you’re a parent or caregiver, keep reading to learn more about why LGBT teenagers have higher rates of substance abuse and what you can do to help.

LGBT Teen Addiction Statistics

LGBT Teens And Addiction | Lesbians, Gays - High Substance Abuse RiskResearch consistently shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens abuse substances at higher rates than their heterosexual peers. Overall, the odds of abusing substances are 190% higher for LGBT teens than for teens that are heterosexual. However, alcohol and drug use rates are even higher in specific LGBT populations. Bisexual youth have substance abuse rates that are 340% higher than heterosexuals, while females have rates that are 400% higher [1].

This doesn’t mean that every non-heterosexual teen will become addicted. In fact, research suggests some of the lowest levels of substance abuse are found among students, regardless of sexual orientation, who do not experience homophobic teasing and feel they are in a positive school environment [2].

The Link Between LGBT Teens And Addiction

Identifying as a non-heterosexual person does not in itself lead to alcohol or drug addiction. However, LGBT youth may be forced to deal with unique challenges; it’s these challenges that can raise their risk of addiction significantly.

For instance, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teenagers are at higher risk for bullying from their peers. Whether the bullying behavior involves being pushed around in a hallway or being victimized on Facebook, it can isolate an adolescent and lead to feelings of depression, which is a risk factor for substance abuse. One study found that teens bullied because they were perceived as gay were more likely to be depressed than those bullied for other reasons or not at all [3].

The threat of violence against LGBT people might also drive a teen to make unhealthy choices that include alcohol or drug abuse. About 21% of all hate crimes in 2011 were based on the victim’s sexual orientation, according to the FBI. Of those, 60% were attacks specifically against gay men and 11% targeted lesbians [4]. Adolescents who feel threatened may also feel the need to self-medicate their severe stress and anxiety with alcohol or drugs.

Parental rejection may also contribute to an LGBT teen’s alcohol or drug addiction. For example, young adults who were rejected by parents for their sexuality during adolescence were almost 4 times more likely to use illicit drugs than those who didn’t experience rejection [5].

Community factors can play a role as well. A study of non-heterosexual adults found that those who lived in states that banned same-sex marriage had a 42% increase in alcohol use disorders [6]. While this particular study examined adults, it’s possible that living in an environment that actively rejects an LGBT teenager’s identity can spur substance abuse.

How To Help LGBT Teens

As a parent or caregiver, it’s essential to help a teenager struggling with substance abuse. Excessive use of alcohol or the abuse of prescription or illicit drugs lays the foundation for a life that’s spent dealing with an addiction rather than living up to potential. Addiction is a chronic mental health condition, although with treatment it can be managed and even overcome. Finding help now gives your teen an opportunity to get back onto a healthier path before an accident or overdose makes it too late.

Seek professional help. Alcohol and drug abuse should be treated by qualified professionals. If possible, choose a recovery facility skilled in working with LGBT youth. These centers will have expertise in helping a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender addict deal with situation-specific emotions and behaviors that play a role in his or her addiction. For example, a rehab center with an LGBT program will work with your teen on matters dealing with sexuality, sexual identity, gender identity, and family dynamics.

If you cannot locate alcohol or drug addiction treatment specifically for an LGBT addict, don’t give up hope. A qualified addiction center can still treat your teen for substance abuse. You’ll work with a specialist to develop a treatment plan that addresses your teenager’s needs. Depending on the substance, he or she may need detoxification (detox) as well as therapy. Since teenagers are heavily influenced by their peers, it’s normal for addicted teens to require residential rehab so they can fully immerse themselves in a safe, substance-free environment.

Substance abuse aftercare is also a critical part of maintaining sobriety in adolescents. Addiction aftercare, which will likely include therapy, ensures that a teen addict continues to have access to the tools that help him or her stay in recovery. In addition, LGBT teens are particularly vulnerable to bullying and, in some cases, violent attacks because of their sexual identity. An aftercare program will help a teenager cope with those challenges in a healthy way.

Create a supportive home. Researchers have found that parental rejection during an LGBT teen’s adolescence boosts the risk of substance abuse. Consider how you or other caregivers have reacted to your teenager’s identification as non-heterosexual. If you or a spouse has reacted with disappointment or anger, or if you’ve rejected the teen outright, start educating yourself in order to better understand your own feelings. Support groups for LGBT parents can be an ideal resource for those struggling to accept a non-heterosexual teenager. You’ll find beneficial support from parents who have experienced the same emotions and challenges.

Encourage your teen to connect. Support from others in the LGBT community will nurture your teenager in a positive way. Building friendships with those who are going through the same life experiences will help him or her feel less isolated. Be sure, however, that these connections are the kinds that encourage sobriety and a healthy lifestyle.

Alcohol and drug addiction can ruin the life of your teen. Don’t wait to get help. Reach out to treatment professionals who are experienced in working with LGBT . Doing so will give your son or daughter the best chance to have an addiction-free life.


[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2680081/

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm

[3] http://library.wheelerclinic.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=news&id=155391&cn=5

[4] http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/hate-crime/2011/narratives/incidents-and-offenses

[5] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/123/1/346.abstract

[6] http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2009.168815



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