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LGBTQ+ Individuals More Likely to Engage in Substance Misuse at Younger Age

June 19, 2020

Americans who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to start using illicit substances at an earlier age, use more types of drugs and have less of a support system when they are ready to stop using, according to a study published this month by Desert Hope, an American Addiction Centers treatment facility in Las Vegas.

Desert Hope conducted a nationwide survey that received responses from 1,700 who admitted to using or abusing drugs. Of the participants, 400 identified as LGBTQ+. Among the findings:

  • LGBTQ+ respondents were more likely to have started using at an early age, as 12% of LGBTQ+ respondents said they started at age 13 or younger and 35% said they were between the ages of 14-17, compared to 7% of heterosexual respondents who started by age 13 and 32% between the ages of 14-17.
  • 43% of LGBTQ+ respondents said they had or have used illicit drugs for at least six years, compared to 36% of heterosexual respondents.
  • Although marijuana was the most common first illicit drug used by both groups (75% of heterosexual respondents, 63% of LGBTQ+), 31% of LGBTQ+ participants said their first drug was a “hard drug” (defined in the survey as cocaine, opioids, meth, mushrooms, LSD or heroin), compared to 19% of heterosexuals.
  • 53% of LGBTQ+ individuals said they feel like they have the needed support of family and friends when they were ready to end their substance abuse vs. 63% of heterosexual adults. Moreover, 31% of LGBTQ+ individuals said they believed their sexual identify made it more difficult to get support.

Meanwhile, a separate study published by New York University found that individuals over the age of 50 who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual were at least twice as likely to engage in non-medical use of cannabis, prescription tranquilizers and prescription opioids as heterosexual older adults.

“The unique challenges this community faces necessitates the need for specialized treatment by understanding professionals,” Hirely Martinez-Cabrera, lead therapist in the LGBTQ+ treatment track at AAC’s River Oaks Treatment Center, said in a statement emailed to Addiction Professional. “Sobriety in the LGBT+ community can be very complicated.”

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