Making Sense Of The LGBT Community’s High Rates Of Substance Use

Our guest blogger is Jerome Hunt, Research Associate for LGBT Progress.

Last week, the Center for American Progress released a new issue brief on “Why the Gay and Transgender Population Experiences Higher Rates of Substance Use” and what can be done to reduce these rates. Specifically, the brief mentions that an estimated 20 to 30 percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population.

According to the brief, there are three main factors that contribute to these higher rates of substance use in the gay and transgender population. The first factor is minority stress that comes from social prejudice and discriminatory laws in everyday life such as employment, relationship recognition, and health care. Second, the lack of cultural competency in the health care system not only discourages gay and transgender individuals from seeking treatment, but can lead to inappropriate or irrelevant service. Finally, targeted marketing by alcohol and tobacco companies are exploiting the fact that bars and clubs are not only safe spaces for socialization for gay and transgender individuals but provide easy access to tobacco products and alcohol.

As a result, gay and transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol, and other substances as a way to cope with the challenges. The data that are available about substance abuse show just how much of an impact this is having on the gay and transgender population. For example, gay and transgender people smoke tobacco up to 200 percent more than their heterosexual counterparts. Additionally, twenty five percent of gay and transgender people abuse alcohol, compared to 5 to 10 percent of the general population.


The brief also mentions a number of administrative and legislative recommendations that if employed could help to reduce the high rates of substance abuse within the gay and transgender population, including several outlined by the Center for American Progress last year that the Department of Health and Human Services could take. The legislative recommendations included the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act, The Respect for Marriage Act, and the Health Equality Act.