NAMI Cook County North Suburban

Our News

5 minutes read

Why Mental Health Issues In LGBTQ Communities Frequently Lead to Addiction

Published by Courtney Hall

While mental health issues affect individuals of every community and socioeconomic class, the LGBTQ community has an increased risk for mental illness, with three times as many individuals who identify as LGBTQ living with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder than their heteronormative counterparts. Many LGBTQ individuals do not receive treatment for their mental health disorders. These individuals struggle with higher addiction rates than individuals from other communities. Understanding the barriers and challenges individuals of the LGBTQ community face can help mental health therapists and counselors provide quality informed care.


High Levels of Stress

Individuals within the LGBTQ community experience chronic stress, often times attributed to social stigma and discrimination. Chronic stress over extended periods of time has been linked to increased episodes of depression and anxiety. Without an outlet and strategies for combating chronic stress, many individuals will begin to rely on alcohol, tobacco, and other substances to self-medicate.

These high levels of stress have contributed to an ever more alarming situation.  Statistically, LGBTQ suicide rates are nothing to laugh at as LGBTQ people aged 10–24, suicide is one of the leading causes of death!

  • – LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely and questioning youth are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm than straight people.
  • – Between 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation.


Increased Risk for Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Use

The most commonly abused drugs across all demographic groups are alcohol, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, and benzodiazephines (Xanax). The prevalence of the use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco within the LGBTQ community is high. Some studies indicate that individuals who identify as LGBTQ are two times more likely to have substance abuse issues than those who identify as heteronormative. This increased risk is thought to be compounded by the social and emotional problems that the LGBTQ community faces, including higher levels of discrimination and trauma and less access to quality mental and physical healthcare.

  • – An estimated 20-30% of LGBTQ people abuse substances, compared to about 9% of the general population.
  • – 25% of LGBT people abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population.

Read more: Transformations Treatment Center | Rehab for Most Commonly Abused Drugs


Lack of Specialized and Culturally Competent Care

Research indicates that LGBTQ individuals experience mental health issues unique to their community related to social injustice, prejudice, and stigma. Not having access to providers that understand the unique issues that the LGBTQ community faces, whether through lived experiences or through specialized training, creates a barrier to receiving care and ultimately increases the risk for self-medication and addiction. Due to social stigma and discrimination, many individuals within the LGBTQ community lack trust in heteronormative practices, which once deemed their sexual orientation and gender identity as a mental illness or deviant. Specialized services and culturally competent care can decrease the barrier to receiving services exponentially. When an individual feels as though the person (or persons) providing the services, not only understands the issues they are facing but is also not viewing them through a socially discriminatory lens, greater successes can be obtained.

Research indicates that individuals who receive quality mental health services can lead healthy, productive and successful lives. For those in the LGBTQ community, this is especially important due to the prevalence of depression and anxiety present within the community due to social issues beyond their control. Many mental health programs have been re-designed to be inclusive of race, sex, and age. It is also important to design mental health programs inclusive of the LGBTQ community. Therapists that are knowledgeable of the social stresses members of the community face will yield better results. Inclusive therapy can lead to better treatment and possibly reduce the prevalence of addiction within the LGBTQ community. Family counseling may be necessary as well, as many LGBTQ youths require a strong support network like their family to get through the discrimination and social stigma surrounding their sexualities. There could also be an issue of bullying in school, which may require a look at alternative options for a LGBTQ teen. This could include a new local school, or even an online school experience, to help reduce the risk of poor mental health.

Finding a support network that understands and relates with you is essential. We offer many support groups, and are continually searching for new ways to improve the lives of those in need. Read and see how we can help you in your trying time and help you feel less alone.

Back to News