While today’s opioid epidemic plagues victims of all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds, members of the LGBTQ community fall prey to addiction at disproportionate rates. Researchers have known for some time that children raised in addictive households have a greater risk of developing addictions themselves. Just like their hetero peers, some LGBTQ individuals grew up in homes with one or both parents as addicts, while others did not. What contributes, then, to the spike in opioid addictions within members of this community?
Several factors are at play. Most significantly, many LGBTQ community members suffer from minority stress. Other risks include difficulty in establishing support systems and accessing care.
What Is Minority Stress?
What is minority stress? According to the American Psychological Association, minority stress refers to differences between the dominant social norms within communities and the experiences of those noncompliant with them. In pragmatic terms, minority can be defined as the increased stress factors experienced by people who don’t fall neatly into the predominantly white, hetero and cis norms.
Members of the LGBTQ community have long endured discrimination and even acts of violence simply for being their authentic selves. While many Native American tribes revered those of different sexual and gender identities as shamans possessing both male and female spirits, today’s monotheistic and patriarchal religions condemn them as immoral. As a result, even societies that theoretically embrace separation between church and state allow dominant religions to influence public policy.
Consider the minority stress experienced by LGBTQ individuals this way: No heterosexual couple needs to fear threats of violence simply for holding hands with their partners in public. LGBTQ community members must consider this all the time. No cisgender individual needs to stress which restroom to use out of fear, but transgender individuals must worry about the reactions of others when selecting where to go. They even may face legal consequences for choosing the wrong pot.
Over time, this ceaseless daily pressure wears even the strongest down. While many LGBTQ community members do utilize healthy coping mechanisms, others sadly slide into addiction. Opiates numb the pain of life for those collapsing under minority stress.
Difficulty in Accessing Care
Another factor influencing the spike in opioid addiction rates among members of the LGBTQ community involves difficulty in accessing care when they do seek help. Some community members lack health insurance and/or financial resources, and others experience bias from mental health providers.
Finding an unbiased counselor isn’t enough. Because of the unique pressures faced by LGBTQ individuals, therapists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals require specialized training in treating members of the community. However, few receive such training, and those who do often spend only an hour or two as part of continuing education requirements.
Indeed, a nationwide study that evaluated the treatment programs available to LGBTQ individuals found that only roughly 7 percent of mental health practitioners specialize in the treatment of sexual minorities.
Additionally, many jurisdictions still lack legal protection for LGBTQ community members in employment situations. Since the majority of U.S. citizens get their health insurance through their employers, many sexual minorities fear potential job loss if they seek treatment. Others lack health coverage altogether, as well as the financial means to pay pricey therapy bills week after week.
Lack of Adequate Social Support
Many in the LGBTQ community first experience prejudice within their own homes. Roughly 40 percent of all homeless teens identify as LGBTQ, and the majority of these were kicked out by their parents. The sense of rejection such teens must feel staggers the imagination and wounds the soul.
Adult members of the LGBTQ community also struggle to find acceptance and support. Many adults meet their social circles through work, but LGBTQ individuals may shy away from forming close bonds with co-workers out of fear of discrimination. Having no one to talk to whom they trust drives many to feel like the heroin needle is their only friend.
Helping LGBTQ Individuals Suffering from Opioid Addiction
The good news is, with proper treatment, many LGBTQ community members succeed in coming clean. Many go on to pay it forward by sharing their stories with others in need of encouragement and hope.
Those fearing a friend or family member may suffer from an opioid addiction can help those they love by offering nonjudgmental acceptance. They can intervene by offering to assist with filing health insurance claims or finding the right treatment program. Often, knowing that somebody in their life cares sets LGBTQ members on the road to recovery. Be that special someone for the LGBTQ person you love.