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[ Opinion ]

LGBTQ and Substance Addiction Treatment

Take a look at the blue-and-gold beer advertisements on almost every billboard, on TV, and interrupting your Pandora playlist. Heterosexual couples kissing over a glass of champagne, cute coeds playing volleyball on a beach in Mexico, and bros throwing back a couple of shots on a Guys Night Out. What do they all have in common? They’re all straight.

Everyone drinks, the ads say. And while it’s true that both heterosexual and LGBTQ+ people drink alcohol, only 3-10% of the heterosexual population are likely to be heavy drinkers. That’s half as much alcohol abuse as the gay and lesbian community, at 20-25%. The fact is that LGBTQ+ people are twice as likely to abuse alcohol, and that issue is compounded by discrimination, shame, and cultural prejudice. We are also more likely than straight people to seek help for substance addiction.

We’re Here and We’re Queer

It’s easy to feel out of place in a culture that pretends gay, queer, transgender, lesbian, and non-normative people don’t exist. Many of us face the negative consequences of being “gay in public,” from missing out on a promotion at work, to fears for our personal safety. Although recent changes like marriage equality have done a lot for the LGBTQ+ community, the fact is that we face issues that straight people simply don’t have to deal with. Alcohol and drugs can help numb the pain of feeling like an outsider. Gay bars, too, have been key meeting places for us—a safe space to really be ourselves.

So, when we end up with a drinking or drug problem, what do we do? Does this mean we have to give up going to our favorite gay bar or club? Will our friends think we’re no fun if we stop drinking? And, most importantly, what if we can’t find a treatment center that is safe and accessible for LGBTQ+ people? These fears keep many gay and lesbian people from seeking recovery. Luckily, many rehabs and detox centers offer acceptance and care for anyone who wants help—exactly the way it should be.

Ditch the Shame of Substance Addiction

Shame is a key factor in who becomes addicted to a substance, as well as who ends up getting sober. If you have any shame or embarrassment about your sexual identity, this can compound things. It’s been said that “we’re only as sick as our secrets.” Although you don’t owe it to anyone to come out unless you want to, many people struggle to admit that they’re hooked on a substance for the same reasons they didn’t want anyone to know about their sexual identity. Many people stay “closeted” about their addiction for years, getting sicker, trying to hide. “What will people think of me?” they wonder.

The fact is that addiction affects all kinds of people—queer and straight and everything in between. “Coming out” as someone who struggles with addiction can feel like a huge step. But for those of us who have done it, we know that there’s freedom on the other side. Asking for help and self identifying as someone with substance abuse disorder is the first step. It’s not like that magically makes everything better, but it definitely doesn’t make things worse. Addiction thrives in the dark. When we turn a light on it, we help ourselves and we help other people see that we need help. We really do want to get better.

Recovery Is For Everyone

No matter what your orientation or identity is, or your substance of choice, there’s a place for you in recovery. Nobody owns recovery. If you’re LGBTQ+, be assured that you won’t be the first gay or lesbian person ever to get sober. There is a very healthy queer sober community that can help deal with the trials and tribulations of recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step programs have gay and lesbian meetings, and there are plenty of ways to meet other people in recovery.

Getting sober and finding recovery isn’t the end of anything: it’s the beginning. From setting your dating profile to “doesn’t drink” to choosing to meet up in a coffee shop or at a cool gallery instead of a local bar, you can take small steps towards recovery. There’s no wrong way to do it. Whether you opt into treatment or find help in a support group or with your therapist, you are welcome in recovery. And who knows—trading in your beer goggles for rose colored glasses might be the best thing you ever did.

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