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LGBT Community and Substance Abuse: How Families can Help

GemmaHunt | December 21, 2015

It’s not easy being part of the LGBT community. From treatment at work, the wider community, and friends, LGBT people often find it difficult to be accepted for just who they are. It’s difficult to imagine for non-LGBT people, but think about this: even if you’re primed for success in this world, life is already pretty darn difficult. Now imagine you have to overcome prejudice and discrimination just to give yourself a fighting chance alongside everybody else.

We all cope with our issues in different ways. Some shun the world, some lose themselves in unhappiness, and some turn to drinks and drugs to help them handle the world. It is the latter that we’ll focus on in this article.

Among many other issues, you don’t hear about drink and drug abuse in the LGBT, but it’s a very real problem. A University of Pittsburgh study found that LGBT teenagers were far more likely – 190% more likely – to use drink and drugs to cope than non-LGBT teenagers. It gets worse when the numbers are dissected even further. Bisexual teens are 340% more likely to use substances, while lesbian teens are 400% more likely.

A Problem That Needs Addressing

The reasons why these numbers exist could be an article in its own right, but the end result is the same: this is a very real problem with very real consequences. Nobody can get through this issues alone, especially if they’re self-medicating with drink and drugs. It’s a slippery slope that all too often can have tragic ends – be it of unrealised potential, depression, or, more seriously, health problems.

While it’s not the case in all instances, generally speaking people have a hard time coming out. This can cause a lot of anxiety that can drive a person to use substances just to get through the day. Similarly, in certain societies being LGBT can make you a target for bullies, which again places a strain on mental well-being.

The Family

Every family operates under its own dynamics. Some talk, some don’t, some show obvious love, some don’t; these are all reasons why LGBT have had a hard time coming out. Once they’re out in the open, there’s nowhere to hide. If you’re reading this and a LGBT family member is drinking too often then it’s likely you have always dealt with them in a loving way, but it’s not the end of the world if you haven’t – it’s never too late to change and be there when they need you the most.

Because they really do need you if they’re going to beat their demons and live a healthy life. Families are such an important part of post-rehab success that it requires everyone to dig in.

How do you do it? Well, love. But more specifically:

Communication and Openness

Let them know that, however it has been in the past, you’re there to talk and that it’s completely fine however they want to live their life (of course, you must mean what you say).


The LGBT family member might have turned to drink and drugs in the first place because they didn’t feel a closeness with their family. Become an active part of their life. Relationships need to be reciprocal; if they feel they have to conform to your way of being then they’ll only conceal who they really are. When this happens, you won’t see when they’re struggling or using drink or drugs.

Write a Letter

Not everyone feels comfortable verbally expressing their emotions. If this is you, consider writing your son, daughter, or sibling a letter letting them know that you love them and that you’re always there for them. You’d be surprised just how much of a positive impact this can have. Even later on, when things have settled down and your many miles apart, they’ll have the letter as a reminder that there is a place where they’re truly loved and accepted.


Finally, the best way you can help if by learning to forgive any past digressions. They may have treated you badly, but that’s in the past now. However, you don’t get to forgive yourself for any of your past mistakes (especially to do with their LGBT standing) – only they can do that. Work hard to make up for how you acted in the past – you can’t undo it, but you can affect how you act now.