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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals tend to have higher substance abuse rates than their heterosexual peers. Several studies provide statistics including the following:
- The Maine Office of Substance Abuse suggested that 20 percent to 30 percent of the LGBT population have substance abuse problems in a 2006 report.
- The report also cited a 1996 study that said 55 percent of gay men experience addiction in their lifetime.
- A 2008 Addiction journal study found that LGBT youth had 190 percent higher drug use rates.
- The rate soared to 340 percent for bisexual youth and 400 percent for lesbian youth in the same study.
The University of Pittsburgh researchers behind the Addiction study concluded that LGBT youth use drugs as a tool to escape the emotional pain of unequal treatment, bullying and social rejection.
Social Rejection and LGBT Statistics
Published in 2013, a Pew Research survey of LGBT Americans found that society has become more accepting of their orientations, but social rejection remains a problem according to the findings, which included the following:
- Thirty-nine percent were rejected by a close friend or family member over their orientation.
- Twenty-nine percent were made to feel unwelcome in a church, and 21 percent were in the workplace.
- Thirty percent have been attacked or threatened, and 58 percent targeted with jokes and slurs.
- Only 39 percent had admitted their sexual orientation to their fathers.
Other research studies show similar findings including the following:
- Among LGBT participants in the 2011 National School Climate Survey, 82 percent reported verbal harassment, 38 percent physical harassment and 18 percent physical abuse.
- The 2007 government paper “Homeless Youth in the United States” said studies suggest up to 35 percent of homeless youth are LGBT.
- Journal of Adolescent Research reported in 1994 that suicidal behavior among LGBT youth is up to four times higher than heterosexual youth.
- Gay men have greater social interaction anxiety and lower self-esteem than heterosexual men according to a 2006 study in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.
- American Journal of Public Health reported in 2012 that LGBT youth had up to 3.9 times greater risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Whether unintentional or based in bigotry, social rejection is a painful experience with many negative side effects. This is true regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.
Effects of Social Rejection
In 2011 the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study that found social rejection and physical pain share a common somatosensory representation, which means the brain interprets the pain as the same. While this gives new meaning to feeling hurt, social rejection can have several other negative effects including the following:
- Potentially makes a person feel isolated, strange, unloved and alone
- Puts doubt in people’s minds about their ability to develop relationships
- Exacerbates a mental health or personality disorder like bipolar or anxiety
- Increases the likelihood of aggressive, disruptive and antisocial behavior
- Develops rejection sensitivity that is often neurotic and passive-aggressive
A measure of rejection occurs in everybody’s life, but people have difference tolerance levels, and some rejection involves extreme, continual abuse. Ongoing social rejection based on lifestyle, beliefs, body weight, physical traits, race and sexual orientation can produce emotional pain, stress, confusion, trauma and anxiety, which are all conditions that can contribute to substance abuse.
Substance Abuse Motivations
A 2012 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report stated that heterosexism induces shame, negative self-concepts and internalized homophobia in LGBT individuals, and feeling marginalized can motivate substance abuse. Regardless of sexual orientation, however, several unhealthy social factors can motivate substance abuse including the following:
- Peer pressure to embrace a social party scene involving drugs and alcohol
- Unresolved emotional trauma stemming from verbal, physical or sexual abuse
- Attempt to soothe nerves in anticipation of possible social rejection
- The use of stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines to feel empowered
- Self-medication of PTSD, depression and other mental disorder symptoms
- Loneliness and boredom that leads to regular substance use at home
People who feel rejected may turn to alcohol and drugs to numb the effects, but addiction can produce negative behaviors such as lying, stealing and obsessing that push people away. Furthermore common side effects like nausea, agitation, mood swings and paranoia can cause added social distress. Professional rehabilitation is the most effective way to overcome addiction, and comprehensive care also includes therapies to deal with psychological, emotional and social pain.
Comprehensive Addiction Care
Rehabilitation centers offer a number of potential therapies and services including the following:
- Monitored detox that minimizes withdrawal symptoms and maximizes comfort
- Integrated diagnosis and treatment for co-occurring mental health and personality disorders
- Personalized plan to identify and mediate cues that trigger substance abuse cravings
- Behavioral therapies that help patients develop healthier thought processes and responses
- Individual counseling to help patients work through trauma, abuse and rejection issues
- Development of life skills to manage anger, resolve conflicts and deal with rejection
- Treatment tracks with specialized counseling and group therapies for LGBT patients
Treatment facilities offer a supportive and nonjudgmental environment to deal with a wide range of issues including situations related to gender identity, sexual orientation and social rejection.
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