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How Stigma in the LGBTQ+ Community Can Lead to Addiction

While the LGBTQ+ community has made significant strides toward institutional and interpersonal acceptance over the years, it can hardly be said that the battle is over by any means. This population still faces an entirely unique and distinct set of factors that render them more vulnerable to substance use and addiction, and many of these issues originate directly from the stigma attached to their identities.

If you or someone you know identifies as LGBTQ+, you know how difficult it can be to maneuver through different areas of your life. You may also know how “easy” and common it is to use self-medication as an escape and how stigma and substance use can very easily overlap. Here are some of the many ways stigma can lead to addiction in the LGBTQ+ community.

Stigma and Judgment at Work

Although 88 percent of those who identify as LGBTQ+ are currently in the workforce, 28 states still have no established workplace protections for this population. Data from Robert Wood Johnson indicates that 20 percent of LGBTQ+ job applicants have been discriminated against based on their orientation and identity. The Human Rights Council reports that nearly 60 percent of non-LGBTQ+ workers said it was “unprofessional” to talk about sexual orientation, or even same-sex relationships, in the workplace. This may be one of the main reasons why 46 percent of LGBTQ+ remain closeted at work. Additionally, trans men and women both report high rates of harassment at work, though trans women report markedly higher rates.

Nobody likes to feel marginalized, harassed, or discriminated against at work. Our livelihoods and very survival are attached to our workplace experiences, and we can feel trapped between maintaining our dignity and feeding ourselves if we feel like we’re being treated unfairly. LGBTQ+ employees face this reality every single day.

At School: Bullying, LGBTQ+ Stigma, and Addiction

The relationship between bullying and substance abuse has been well documented, and LGBTQ+ students are routinely the targets of bullying and derision by their classmates. Data from GLAAD indicates that 49 percent of LGBTQ+ students have experienced cyberbullying; nearly 57 percent didn’t report being bullied because they didn’t think anything would come of it; 62 percent said the school did nothing about their bullying claims when reported; 74 percent have been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and over 16 percent have been physically assaulted for the same reason. Over 22 percent were physically harassed, and over 11 percent were physically assaulted because of their gender expression.

At Home: Stigma, Judgment, and Shaming from Family

Perhaps nowhere in life do stigma and addiction overlap more than in the home. The family unit is supposed to be the place where we find comfort, support, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. Yet, many LGBTQ teens and young adults face rejection from their parents, leading to alarming rates of homelessness and other socioeconomic hardship. Over 45 percent of LGBTQ+ homeless youth say they’re on the streets because of family rejection. Up to 70 percent of homeless youth engage in alcohol or drug abuse to cope with life on the streets. LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely as heterosexual men and women to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime.

At the Doctor’s Office: Stigma and Barriers to Effective Treatment

Many LGBTQ+ people have reported experiencing stigma and discrimination when accessing health services, leading some to delay necessary healthcare or forego it altogether. This can lead to higher rates of infection and undetected substance abuse. Patients are supposed to be able to rely on their doctors for objective, non-judgmental and stigma-free care. Overall, LGBTQ+ Americans don’t have access to the same level of healthcare that heterosexual Americans enjoy. These access discrepancies extend beyond the clinical setting into the insurance landscape, making it even harder for those struggling with substance abuse and addiction to access treatment when needed. Stigma plays a significant role in the proliferation of addiction.

LGBTQ+ Stigma and Addiction: What Can Be Done?

If discrimination and stigma have led you or an LGBTQ+ loved one to addiction, you need help from a treatment center that understands the unique identity-related struggles you face. Recovery Unplugged offers LGBTQ-friendly addiction treatment to our clients heal in a safe, supportive and compassionate environment. Our facilities provide compassionate and inclusive housing options for trans clients, and our clinical experts are fully experienced in treating the unique associated medical and behavioral health issues faced by the LGBTQ+ population. We offer trained doctors and nurses, a variety of supplemental therapies, and in-depth group and individual counseling, as well as a deeply supportive alumni community. Don’t let LGBTQ+ stigma drive you to addiction. Recovery Unplugged is waiting to help you.

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