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Escaping to Fit In: LGBT Teens and Substance Abuse

Why LGBT Teens are at a Greater Risk for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders

Hands painted as the rainbow flag forming a heart, symbolizing gay love

As parents, we want to give our children every opportunity to lead a healthy and happy life. For teens that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), rates of depression and drug addiction are more prevalent than among heterosexual adolescents. According to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens were 190 percent more likely to use alcohol and drugs than their peers. LGBT adolescents also have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness, all conditions that can be temporarily numbed through the use of drugs or alcohol. For LGBT teens that are feeling the societal pressure to conform, or who may be internally conflicted about their own identities, drugs and alcohol offer a way to escape such oppressive feelings and uncertainties.

Escapism and Substance Use
As difficult as adolescence can be, LGBT teens face even more challenges than their heterosexual counterparts. Too often, LGBT teens are faced with an unsupportive society, bullying, discrimination and hatred from homophobic peers, and unsupportive family members. As these stresses add up, LGBT youths often use drugs and alcohol to escape their feelings of depression, misunderstanding, and self-hatred. Many adolescents spend their impressionable teenage years experimenting in ways that help them form their identities. LGBT teens are more likely to use drugs and alcohol as a means of lowering their inhibitions and allowing them to explore their true feelings and interests with diminished reservations. Using drugs and alcohol as a way to find perceived courage, however, can lead teens to experiment in ways that could be dangerous.

LGBT teens also often report that they feel like outsiders at school, at home, and in their communities. For LGBT teens seeking friendship and acceptance, they may be at greater risk for succumbing to peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol as a means of feeling accepted, and finding a sense of belonging. Drugs and alcohol may also seemingly offer an escape from bullying, societal discriminations, and feelings of isolation and misunderstanding.

The Road to Recovery
The connection between mental illness and substance abuse is not exclusive to LGBT adolescents, but treatment for these teens should be individualized to address their unique impacting risk factors. If your child identifies as LGBT, you have an opportunity to be the most influential and positive factor in his or her life. To help your teen maintain confidence and avoid the temptations of substance abuse:

  • Talk to your teen and listen in return. Maintaining an open and honest dialogue will encourage your teen to open up about issues they may be facing at school, or pressures they may be feeling that could lead to dangerous behavior.
  • Stay involved in your teen’s life. Get to know your child’s friends, who they are dating, and where they are spending their free time. Being involved in your teen’s life will help you identify risky behavior at its onset.
  • Be proactive. There is no need to wait until a serious incident occurs to talk to your teen or find a support system in your community. Involve other members of your family, including your child’s siblings, in the safety net you develop.

Horizon Health Services offers mental health and substance abuse support and recovery for LGBT adults, adolescents and their families. And starting in January 2016, we will be offering a new group called “Pride in Recovery” which will focus on substance abuse and treatment specifically for the LGBT community. This is open to ALL of our current clients at all of our locations.  

For more information, contact us today at 716.831.1800.