Addiction Treatment for the LGBTQ+ Community
By Lisa Collins
Providing treatment that is sensitive to each patient’s unique needs is key in recovery. Treatment centers can provide better care and grow their treatment programs with inclusive programs that are fit for many different types of people.
It is estimated that more than 16 million Americans are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and the number of people who identify as LGBTQ+ is consistently growing. While just two percent of the Baby Boomer generation identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community, a full sixteen percent of Generation Z identify as LGBTQ+. Additionally, many Millennials and Generation Z members are in the age range that most often populate treatment centers, meaning providing LGBTQ+-inclusive care now is more important than ever.
Definition of LGBTQ+ Community
Someone who is LGBTQ+ is part of a minority group of individuals who do not identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender. “Cisgender” denotes a person whose personal identity and gender identity refer to the sex they were assigned at birth. To understand the meanings of some of the letters in the LGBTQ+ acronym, see the following explanations:
- Gay refers to those attracted to the same gender as themselves
- Lesbian refers to women attracted to other women
- Bisexuals (sometimes used interchangeably with pansexual) are attracted to men and women, and/or multiple genders
- Asexual people do not experience sexual attractions
- Transgender defines those whose sex at birth does not match with their gender identity
- Non-binary can have different meanings, but typically refers to those whose gender falls outside the male/female binary
Substance Use Disorder and the LGBTQ+ Community
Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex and difficult disorder for anyone to have, and its effects can be heartbreaking for those who experience it. It is important to remember that those dealing with SUD are not voluntarily using the substances; it is a medical disorder that often needs treatment to be resolved.
People facing substance abuse disorder can have mild, moderate, or severe symptoms associated with the disorder. To be diagnosed with SUD, one must have at least 2-3 symptoms to qualify for mild SUD, 4-5 symptoms to indicate moderate SUD, and 6+ for severe SUD. Some of the symptoms the DSM criteria include are:
- The substance is taken for a long period or in larger quantities than intended
- There are unsuccessful attempts to stop using the substance
- There are cravings for the substance
- There is failure to meet work or social obligations due to substance use
- There is the continued use of the substance even if it causes psychological or physical problems
- There is a tolerance increase of the substance
- There are withdrawal symptoms when stopping the substance
Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ people are 2.5 times more likely to develop SUD than non-LGBTQ+ people. Despite how common substance use is in this particular community, adequate treatment and access to healthcare are limited for LGBTQ+ people. To combat the current lack of care, treatment centers must take steps to implement comprehensive care for LGBTQ+ individuals.
Minority Stress Model and Additional Challenges for the LGBTQ+ Community
The minority stress model indicates that LGBTQ+ people face specific challenges that can lead to additional stress and mental health problems. Likely due in part to stigma, LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely to have a mental disorder at some point in life when compared to their straight counterparts. Having a mental disorder increases the likelihood that someone will have a SUD, and both disorders must be considered during treatment.
When treating LGBTQ+ individuals, it is important to keep in mind the following information:
- 4% of gay men and lesbians have considered suicide; 7.4% of bisexuals have considered suicide, and a whole 30.8% of transgender people have considered suicide.
- LGBTQ+ individuals are at an increased risk for PTSD due to the increased likelihood of violence and trauma
- Eating disorders are more common in the LGBTQ+ community
- LGBTQ+ people are less likely to have social support compared to their straight counterparts
- LGBTQ+ folks are more likely to be homeless and unemployed
- Many LGBTQ+ people have reported barriers to access healthcare due to homophobia and transphobia, leading them to forego treatment and healthcare altogether
Transgender individuals are at an increased risk for violence and are more likely than any other group of people to be the victims of hate crimes and assaults. Transgender people also face higher poverty rates and face a lack of legal and federal protection.
All of these factors can cause serious stress for the members of the LGBTQ+ community, and that stress may lead to a substance abuse disorder.
Addiction Treatment Options and Affirming Care
Treatment options for the people with SUD in the LGBTQ+ community include detox therapy, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and medication-assisted treatment.
Most importantly, treatment centers must focus on creating an inclusive and welcoming space for LGBTQ+ individuals. This aspect means having staff that is informed about LGBTQ+ issues and identities, as well as displaying LGBTQ+ media and pamphlets in waiting areas.
Make LGBTQ+ patients more comfortable by hiring staff who is part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is also useful to make sure all staff, straight or LGBTQ+, are informed about the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Regularly updated training is paramount in keeping staff educated in culturally affirming treatment.
Steps for LGBTQ+ Affirming Care
Some other steps treatment centers can take to serve their LGBTQ+ patients include:
- Providing gender-neutral bathrooms
- Adopting LGBTQ+-friendly procedures
- Using appropriate preferred pronouns for each patient
- Staying up to date on current discriminatory laws and events to be aware of potential stressors
- Avoiding assumptions about patients’ sexuality or gender identity
The LGBTQ+ patient should not have to educate staff members on LGBTQ+ issues or identities. Therefore, treatment centers must encourage staff to practice “cultural humility.” Cultural competency allows individuals to respect different beliefs, while cultural humility requires intentional, ongoing learning about the patients’ life and life experiences within their identity. Staff members who practice cultural humility will know there is always more to learn, and that everyone within a certain culture is different.
Your business and your patients will thank you for taking important steps towards becoming more inclusive and affirming for the LGBTQ+ community.