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LGBT Youth at Greater Risk of Substance Abuse

Alcohol addiction is a serious problem for teenagers, but it’s worse for some than others. Studies have repeatedly found that teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are significantly more likely than their peers to abuse alcohol and drugs.

LGBT youth are three times more likely than average to abuse drugs like cocaine or heroin, according to youthtoday,org. They are 1.3 times more likely to binge drink and 1.6 times more likely to use marijuana illegally. Outside of rehab centers, this problem is poorly understood.

Youth who identify as LGBT are not inherently more rebellious or self-destructive than their peers. Most youth workers and rehab centers feel like the problem lies not with the youth, but with the communities they live in. Sexual minorities are often deprived of support during their crucial developmental years.

Kids enter the teenage years as dependent individuals who rely on others for support and information. By the time they turn 20, these same kids are independent, socialized adults. However, the intervening years are full of questions and insecurity. Most teens experience bouts of depression and low self-esteem..

Fortunately, most youth have parents, friends and mentors to help validate and encourage them. This isn’t always the case with teenagers who don’t fit traditional models of gender or sexuality. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation led a survey of LGBT youth, which found that almost 90 percent felt their communities viewed their sexuality with a negative outlook.   

More than half of LGBT teens say that they’ve been mocked or verbally abused. Unlike their heterosexual counterparts, most LGBT youth don’t feel comfortable speaking with their parents or leaders about concerns in their lives. Straight teens generally feel comfortable going to their parents for support: at least 80 percent of those surveyed said they do it regularly.

On the other hand, less than half of LGBT youth feel comfortable seeking support from traditional adult role models. Alcohol rehab centers try to educate students, but they can’t replace parents. These statistics paint a concerning picture: LGBT youth confront the challenges of growing up without support. They fight their battles alone.

Considering how little help these teens receive, it’s unsurprising that they turn to drugs and alcohol. Most addicts eventually reach a point where their substance abuse becomes a coping mechanism. Unable to cope with the stress or negativity of life, they turn to alcohol as an escape. LGBT youth growing up in hostile environments are looking for support. If they can’t find friends, they will find alcohol and drugs instead.

The ultimate consequences of LGBT teens’ lonely battle are tragic and well documented. Suicide rates among these youth are disproportionately high. Others suffer their whole lives from depression or other disorders. Hundreds spend time in alcohol rehab centers. The problems facing LGBT youth are grim, but they are by no means unavoidable. Community initiatives have yielded impressive results in helping these struggling teens integrate with the rest of their peers.

Science is increasingly suggesting that the real cure for addiction is personal connection. People who feel loved and supported are both less likely to become addicted to dangerous substances and more likely to recover fully in the event that they do. By giving LGBT teens opportunities to meet like-minded individuals and establish support networks, parents and rehab centers can significantly improve their chances of growing up happy and healthy.

“A successful prevention method for decreasing drug use among LGBT youth is increasing the visibility of sexual minorities, which can ultimately alter the socio-political climate in a school or a community. Youth groups and community centers that provide substance abuse prevention seminars and workshops can help prevent youth from turning to drugs. Youth groups can increase an LGBT’s self-esteem and help them deal with the issues which they experience,” reads a statement on the website for the Council on Drug Abuse.

Over the last few years, rehab centers and community activists have premiered a number of events designed to help struggling LGBT youth. Pride Week features parades and other events designed to tell the story of America’s LGBT community. Troubled teens can receive real-time help by using hotlines like youthline.ca. Some American communities even hold LGBT film festivals.

Growing up is hard for LGBT kids, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Schools and communities will be as important as rehab centers in the fight to protect gay youth from addiction.