Another June is quickly passing and reality is that, for many, the support and advocacy shown to the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month is passing right along with it. As well-intentioned as people may be in their heads and their hearts, one of the enduring challenges with any temporary event, whether it’s a day, a week or a month, is that enthusiasm tends to wane after it’s over. When it comes to doing our parts to address addiction in the LGBTQ+ community, we all know that most meaningful effort extends beyond a single 30-day period, and requires us to embrace the spirit of Pride Month all year round. When all the parade floats are broken down, the rainbow flags are put away and another June is in the books, there remains a population that is routinely vulnerable to higher rates of substance abuse through a variety of avenues, specifically these three primary areas.
The Family (Nuclear and Extended)
Familial and social relationships are the constructs in which people first learn to feel safe and protected, and develop a value system. This means that it’s where LGBTQ+ children first learn to love (or hate) themselves. The difference between a healthy, well-adjusted life and chronic mental health issues among this population often hinges on the support of an accepting family structure, or at least one supportive loved one—and the reality is that many don’t have them. Data from the Human Rights Council indicates that LGBTQ+ teens are nearly 40 percent less likely to have an adult in their family to whom they can turn. One recent Harvard study, among many others, indicates that LGBT youth may experience a disruption in parent-child attachment if they are rejected based on their sexual orientation or gender identity; parental rejection of LGBT youth negatively affects youths’ identity and health, and parental acceptance of LGBTQ+ youth is crucial to ensure that youth develop a healthy sense of self.
Addressing the problem: Parents and loved ones of LGBTQ+ who are having difficulty with these issues can start by embracing their loved one as a person, not a facet of their identity, and better educating themselves as to what that means. Everyday support, acceptance and tolerance from family and friends are key to developing a healthy, accurate and sound self-image.
As American LGBTQ+ teens and adolescents move into adulthood, they often encounter the same marginalization, or worse, as they might have dealt with in negative family and social dynamics. There is no federal law protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the United States. Almost half (46 percent) of LGBTQ+ workers in the United States are closeted in the workplace, according to data from the Human Rights Campaign, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that 20 percent of LGBTQ+ Americans have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when applying for jobs. That same research also indicates that 22 percent of LGBTQ+ Americans have not been paid equally or promoted at the same rate as their peers. The Williams Law Institute on UCLA reveals that one in four LGBTQ+ employees report experiencing employment discrimination in the last five years.
Addressing the problem: Employers can considerably increase employee morale, productivity and positive mental health among their LGBTQ+ staff by offering a more inclusive workplace. The good news is that many of them are. As of 2018, 93 percent of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation. Eighty-five percent have non-discrimination policies that include gender identity. Many companies also provide other benefits, including 49 percent offering domestic partner benefits and around 62 percent offering transgender-inclusive benefits.
Addressing LGBTQ+ Addiction in The Doctor’s Office
When familial, professional and societal factors lead to addiction in the LGBTQ+ community, as well as other medical and behavioral health issues, there are often significant logistical and institutional barriers to treatment that make recovery and balanced health much more difficult. A comprehensive study from Human Rights Watch outlines these barriers, and illustrates the long-term impact. The LGBTQ+ population faces a unique and specific set of factors that lead to, sustain and exacerbate their medical and behavioral health issues, chief among which are lack of access to quality treatment versus the heteronormative community.
Addressing the problem: As limited as healthcare protections and resources are for LGBTQ+ patients, there are currently efforts underway to curtail them even more at the regulatory level. Instituting protections for same-sex partners, LGBTQ+-specific medical and behavioral care interventions and more will go a long way to hasten accessibility and recovery. We need to be going forward, not backwards on this issue.
What Happens in the Fight Against LGBTQ+ Addiction on July 1st?
Recovery Unplugged encourages and frankly challenges, all who wish to help curtail addiction in the LGBTQ+ population to take their support, activism and dedication beyond Pride Month and implement it throughout the entire year. Whether you’re trying to help a friend, working to get important protection legislation passed, or simply want to educate yourself a little more about the pervasiveness of this issue, there are more opportunities, resources, and reasons than ever to join the effort. Happy Pride Month from Recovery Unplugged.