It is well documented that vulnerable populations tend to contend with addiction and substance abuse issues at higher rates than other populations. Those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer/questioning (LGBTQ) are estimated to be at risk of alcohol and drug addiction at a rate twice that of the general population.
If you are in this group, it can be very helpful and supportive of your long-term recovery to attend a treatment program tailored specifically for the LGBTQ population.
Why is substance abuse so prevalent in the LGBTQ community?
There are a number of reasons those in the LGBTQ population struggle with substance abuse. First, studies link childhood trauma with substance abuse, and the LGBTQ population has higher rates of trauma than other populations.
Other contributing factors include higher rates of depression in the LGBTQ community (depression is often correlated with addictive behaviors). The physical and mental health consequences of family rejection and discrimination.
Finally, there can be a lot of social pressure of fitting in with other members of the LGBTQ community who may be using drugs or alcohol. Because many LGBTQ individuals are shunned or rejected by family members, friendships become even more important, and in seeking a sense of belonging, it can become easy to use the same substances as those with whom you’re trying to fit in.
What is an LGBTQ program?
An LGBTQ rehab program is a rehabilitation program focused on serving the specific needs of the LGBTQ population. It includes all the same elements as a more traditional program (i.e. medical detox, group therapy, individual therapy, 12-step program meetings, etc.), but with staff who are trained to be sensitive to the specific needs of those who identify as LGBTQ, and participants who also identify as such.
As with traditional programs, there are LGBTQ programs that are more intensive inpatient programs, where participants are under professional supervision 24/7, and less intensive outpatient programs, where participants come to the center for treatment but don’t live on site.
Why attend an LGBTQ program?
There are several reasons to consider an LGBTQ program for substance abuse recovery. First, LGBTQ-focused programs are particularly sensitive to the need for confidential, private treatment. This can be critical to those who have experienced discrimination (either personal or professional) or been the target of abuse because of their sexual identity or gender choice.
Second, many of those in the LGBTQ community have had bad experiences in the healthcare system, and may be afraid of a repeat scenario. An LGBTQ-focused program is designed to be a safe, supportive, and accepting environment, free of the damaging discrimination that may have been present in the past.
Third, going through recovery with others who really “get” your circumstances can lead to deeper healing, growth, bonding, and sustainable recovery. Rather than being the only gay or transgendered member of the community, LGBTQ programs mean you are surrounded by others like you, who you can relate to and learn from.
Fourth, staff members at LGBTQ programs receive special training to help them be as supportive and effective as possible when it comes to helping with recovery. Some are LGBTQ themselves. All are aware of the specific needs and concerns unique to the LGBTQ population, such as how to face heteronormativity and homophobia; the coming out process (wherever an individual is in it); possible rejection by family members; and how to handle depression (as stated, rates of depression are higher in the LGBTQ population).
What else does an LGBTQ program offer?
Because LGBTQ programs are tailored to that community, the staff members and programs themselves are more aware of common problems, and how to address them. For example, those who identify as transgender might be guided on how to handle problems related to being misgendered (i.e. how to process the difficult emotions that come up, without using drugs or alcohol to numb the pain).
Most LGBTQ programs place a strong focus on helping patients with self-acceptance (including of their sexual orientation or gender identity). Where “regular” programs may not address self-acceptance around sexual orientation, an LGBTQ program will address this central issue in a much more comprehensive fashion. The more self-love and self-acceptance are present, the stronger chance an individual has at getting and staying sober.
Finally, some LGBTQ programs are further broken down into categories, such as programs solely for gay men, lesbian women, or transgendered individuals. Again, therapists at these facilities are trained to the issues and concerns specific to these populations. The fact is, the more understood you feel in your rehab program and the more you can relate to those around you, the more likely you are to succeed.