Finding LGBTQ-Friendly Treatment Centers
Sadly, a disproportionate amount of people that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning suffer from addiction. About 9% of the general population suffers from substance use disorder (SUD), but upwards of 30 percent of the LGBTQ population experiences these problems.
The seriousness of the addiction problem among people that identify as LGBTQ+ highlights the need for more resources that provide specialized care that serves this demographic.
Why Do LGBTQ Individuals Need Specialized Treatment?
People in the LGBTQ+ demographic face many unique struggles based on their gender and sexual identity. For example, people that identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to:
- Have struggled with chronic stress for much of their lives. This likely starts at a young age, as they realize that they are different from their family and peers. If they live in an unsupportive household, they are more likely to experience domestic abuse and related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Have experienced bullying at school and cyberbullying online. Remaining “in the closet” also causes intense psychological stress, even if it mitigates immediate, violent discrimination.
- Be the victim of social stigmatizing, violence, and discrimination. This could be intimate partner abuse, verbal and physical aggression from strangers, and discrimination at work, school, and in their neighborhoods.
Ongoing stress from daily existence, combined with childhood stress can leads to addiction and many co-occurring disorders such as:
While much of queer culture is associated with partying and socializing at clubs, bars, or safe spaces, substance use to enhance the social experience can quickly become problematic as a method of relieving psychological strain.
For many adolescents and young adults, gay bars or the Pride Parade may be their first introduction to gay culture. While spaces specifically for LGBTQ individuals are extremely important, they are often in businesses that serve alcohol, or they overlook use of social drugs like GHB, ecstasy, and marijuana. Seeking treatment is difficult when the cultural association with places that feel safe are linked to drug use and drinking.
Finally, finding treatment outside major cities, or in the center of the country, is more difficult. Geographic areas associated with social liberalism, such as both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, will have better access to understanding, safe addiction treatment; areas more associated with conservatism, smaller populations, or fewer urban environments are less likely to have LGBTQ-specific addiction treatment or medical professionals with training to help this unique minority population.
Understanding the Unique Needs of LGBTQ-Focused Rehabilitation
Treatment programs intended to serve the majority population are not likely to consider the unique history and stressors experienced by those who are gay, transgender, or queer. While many aspects of substance use treatment can serve multiple populations—medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapies, for example—understanding the behaviors, histories, cultures, and psychologies of LGBTQ individuals will help medical professionals offer better treatment.
Unique considerations for LGBTQ substance use treatment are outlined below:
- Sexual and gender identity affects personal behaviors.
- Less social support (likely due to discrimination or stigma).
- Less access to insurance through work or quality healthcare is prevalent.
- More members of the LGBTQ community will need treatment for co-occurring disorders.
- There is a need for explicit policies inviting LGBTQ individuals to treatment programs, the creation of safe spaces, and clear anti-discrimination policies and language in treatment programs.
Programs that wish to help LGBTQ individuals must understand their unique perspectives, experiences, and environments outside the dominant cultural narrative.
Gearing treatment facilities, or aspects of programs, into treating specific groups within the LGBTQ community will help to reduce any sense of isolation, which can make mental health problems worse and lead to a relapse of substance use.
What Kind of Environment Should LGBTQ-Specific Programs Offer?
Finding addiction recovery programs that help people in the LGBTQ community requires some additional searching. Look for counselors and doctors who have experience working with specific populations; for example, bisexual men will have different healthcare needs than transgender women.
Physical health, like the use of hormone therapy, antiviral medicines, and other medical interventions, will need to be understood, so they can be carefully balanced with medication-assisted therapy, if this is necessary. Doctors who understand how illicit and prescription drugs interact and how to help LGBTQ individuals safely detox while managing their overall health is very important.
Ask if the facility houses people with others who identify as the same gender. This can be especially important for transgender individuals who are too often ignored and placed with the gender they were assigned at birth – in other words, not their actual gender.
Members of the LGBTQ community who have entered other treatment programs with cis-gendered or heterosexual individuals have reported not only feeling isolated and lonely, but also being verbally or physically harassed. Transgender individuals are at particular risk in scenarios where they do not have clear support and anti-discrimination policies to back them up.
If biological family, workplace discrimination, or other personal issues are a concern, asking about confidentiality policies, including the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), will be important.
It should not be incumbent only on LGBTQ individuals to ask questions when they seek help. Rehabilitation programs that offer treatment specifically to sexual minorities and transgender individuals should be clear upfront when discussing the program and proactive in developing a safe space for this population.
Finding LGBTQ-Friendly Treatment
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) agrees that creative safe spaces with programs specific to subsets of the LGBTQ community is the best way to help gay, transgender, and queer individuals get appropriate, supportive treatment. With LGBTQ-specific offerings, clients are more likely to remain in the program for at least 90 days, which NIDA recommends in order to change behaviors around substances.
Finding LGBTQ-focused treatment may seem as easy as using an online search engine, but many of these programs do not provide evidence-based help. Using the treatment locator offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a great resource for finding evidence-based rehabilitation programs. However, this database does not treatment finders narrow down options based on sexual orientation.
A person who identifies as LGBTQ, or who is seeking help for a loved one who does, may find help through LGBTQ-specific community centers. Of course, both Los Angeles and New York City have two large, prominent, and helpful websites; however, many smaller cities have options nearby. Calling these community centers to track down resources can be a great way to find verified LGBTQ-friendly rehabilitation.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please reach out to an admissions navigator at to start addiction treatment or learn more about the types of addiction treatment offered at Recovery First in Hollywood, Florida.