June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and at New Paradigm Recovery in Tysons, Virginia, we are celebrating the beautiful diversity in our community. Addiction and recovery are important topics that affect the LGBTQ+ community. While we think it’s very important to address risk factors for addiction that affect LGBTQ+ populations, we also want to be careful not to perpetuate stereotypes. Most LGBTQ+ people are not addicts or alcoholics and do not engage in problematic substance use. Many discussions of LGBTQ+ people in relationship to alcohol or other drugs fail to make this important point.
Addiction affects people from all walks of life, regardless of age, race, sexual identity, religion, class, education, or social standing.
So why do we always seem to talk about certain populations (including LGBTQ+ people) being at higher risk for substance abuse disorders? Unfortunately, when a group is oppressed and cut off from social support, legal rights, and economic opportunities, members of that group can be at higher risk for substance abuse. It’s no coincidence that LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk for addiction when 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+. Imagine if your parents kicked you out of your home when you were a teen for who you were, and you were alone, stimagized, and without resources; you might feel like it’s time for a stiff drink (or five). When we talk about addiction and the queer community, we want to be clear: the individuals, institutions, and structures that discriminate against people, ostracize people, bully, threaten, and disenfranchise people are to blame, not the people who have been victimized.
Furthermore, the healthcare industry still has work to do to make mental health care more accessible, welcoming, and stigma-free for everyone. In the metro DC area, we may feel like the stigmas that target the LGBTQ+ community are relics of the past, unfortunately, that’s not the story everywhere in America. While urban areas have been studied extensively regarding barriers to addiction treatment access to the queer community, there is a dirth of data regarding rural America. There’s so much work to do to make freedom from addiction possible for everyone, everywhere.
This Pride Month, while there is so much to celebrate with the LGBTQ+ community all around us, we need to be mindful of the work that needs to be done. Systemic oppression still exists. Life-threatening stigmas continue to be believed and internalized. It’s not enough to wave a flag and post a hashtag.
We’re interested in health, and at New Paradigm, that means the health of our entire community. We do it by lifting people up, building strong foundations, and setting examples of thriving recovery. We do it by holding our profession as a whole to better standards and by calling for policies and legislation to make addiction treatment more attainable for all.
1 Wallace, B. C., & Santacruz, E. (2017). Addictions and substance abuse in the LGBT community: New approaches. LGBT
2 Margolies, L., & Brown, C. G. (2019). Increasing cultural competence with LGBTQ patients. Nursing2020, 49(6), 34-40.
3 Whitehead, J., Shaver, J., & Stephenson, R. (2016). Outness, stigma, and primary health care utilization among rural LGBT populations. PloS one, 11(1), e0146139.