June is PRIDE Month at Pinnacle: The LGBTQIA+ Community and Addiction

Graphic of rainbow with PRIDE

At Pinnacle Treatment Centers, we participate in PRIDE Month every June. We’re more than proud to advocate for members of the LGBTQIA+ community during PRIDE month. We see it as our duty. We join our LGBTQIA+ friends, family members, coworkers, and peers to celebrate diversity and show solidarity with this powerful, vibrant, and brave community that shows us every day what it means to triumph over discrimination and live their truth.

About PRIDE Month: Origins and History

The origins of the gay rights movement in the United States goes back further than most people think. Notable figures in the early movement include the work of Henry Gerber and The Society for Human Rights in the 1920s and the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis in the 1940s and 1950s. Those pioneers paved the way for the gay rights revolution that followed, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to their courage and perseverance in the face of significant – and often violent – opposition,

The modern movement started in 1970 with the first Gay Pride marches in various cities around the U.S. Advocates organized those marches in response to the Stonewall Uprising in New York City the previous year, during which gay rights advocates clashed with police in protests lasting several days. In the ensuing 50 years, the movement has expanded.

In 2023, LGBTQIA+ people can celebrate PRIDE month by participating in marches, rallies, parades, concerts, workshops, and educational events around the world. At every event, LGBTQIA+ people will take heart in seeing the gay pride flag flying high to remind themselves of not only the solidarity they now experience but also of the long road it took to get where we are today.

Behavioral Health and the LGBTQIA+ Community: What You Should Know

Here’s something the experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) observe that we should all understand:

“People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) often face social stigma, discrimination, and other challenges not encountered by people who identify as heterosexual. They also face a greater risk of harassment and violence. As a result of these and other stressors, sexual minorities are at increased risk for various behavioral health issues.”

Behavioral health issues include clinical mental health diagnoses such as depression and anxiety, among others, and well as the disordered use of substances, including alcohol, opioids, and others. To explore the differences in rates substance use and co-occurring mental substance use and mental health disorders between LGBTQIA+ people and people in the gender and sexual majority, researchers administering the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2020 NSDUH) collected and analyzed data on the following:

We’ll share that data now, starting with rates of alcohol, opioid, and methamphetamine use and misuse. We’ll include the rates identified in the non-LGBTQIA+ community for comparison. We include data on methamphetamine use because research shows methamphetamine misuse is a primary driver of the recent increase in drug overdose deaths in the U.S.

Before we share that data, there are a few basic facts about the LGBTQIA+ community everyone should know.

The LGBTQIA+ Experience: More Facts You Should Know

When we discuss the LGBTQIA+ community, addiction, and behavioral health, there are several key points we need to mention:

  1. Diversity. The LGBTQI+ community is not monolithic: that’s why their symbol is a rainbow flag. There are LBGTIA+ people in and of every culture, ethnicity, race, religion, nationality, and socioeconomic class in the world.
  2. Stigma. These two statistics explain part of the stigma and discrimination LGBTQIA+ people face:
    1. 40% of LBGTQIA+ adults experience negative judgment and/or rejections from family and friends
    2. 86% of LGBTQIA+ youth experience bullying and/or harassment at school
  3. Mental Health.
    1. Members of the LGBTQI+ community are twice as likely to develop a mental health disorder, compared with people in the gender/sexual majority
    2. Transgender individuals are four times as likely to develop a mental health disorder, compared with people in the gender/sexual majority
  4. Suicide. LGBTQI+ youth and adults are at increased risk of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation. Key statistics:
    1. LGBTQI+ youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide than non-LGBTQI+ youth.
    2. Over 50% of transgender individuals report considering suicide.

We share these facts to inform people that the LGBTQIA+ community is a true melting pot, made up of people from all walks of life. And no matter who they are – from Fortune 500 CEOs to schoolteachers to doctors, lawyers, and tradespeople – their lived identity can create significant difficulty in their daily lives.

That’s why PRIDE month is important, and that’s why we participate. The increased rates of addiction and mental health challenges in the community are the result of external factors primarily associated with stigma: that’s something we can all work to change.

Now let’s look at the statistics, in order to understand – in real numbers – the harm stigma and misunderstanding can cause.

Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders Among LGBTQIA+ People: Facts and Figures

We retrieved this information from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2020 NSDUH), which included specific analysis of substance use and mental health issues among LGBTQIA+ people. Previous and subsequent editions of the NSDUH did not collect specific data on substance use and mental health issues in the LGBTQIA+ community.

Here’s the data:

2020 NSDUH: Alcohol, Opioid, Methamphetamine (Adults 18+)

Alcohol Use/Alcohol Use Disorder

  • LGBTQIA+ adults aged 18 to 25:
    • 55.7% (or 3.0 million people) reported past-month alcohol use
      • Compared to 51% for non-LGBTQIA+
    • 23.8% (or 1.3 million people) had alcohol use disorder
      • Compared to 15.6% for non-LGBTQIA+
    • LGBTQIA+ adults aged 26+:
      • 62.% (or 6.6 million people) reported past-month alcohol use
        • Compared to 54% for non-LGBTQIA+
      • 20.8% (or 2.2 million people) had alcohol use disorder
        • Compared to 10.3% for non-LGBTQIA+

Opioid Use/Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)

  • LGBTQIA+ adults aged 18 to 25:
    • 5.4% (or 292,000 people) misused opioids in the past year
      • Compared to 4.1% for non-LGBTQIA+
    • 1.6% (or 87,000 people) had opioid use disorder
      • Compared to 0.9% for non-LGBTQIA+
    • Among LGBTQIA+ adults aged 26+:
      • 7.4% (or 790,000 people) reported past-year opioid misuse
        • Compared to 3.5% for non-LGBTQIA+
      • 2.8% had opioid use disorder
        • Compared to 1.1% for non-LGBTQIA+

Methamphetamine Use

  • LGBTQIA+ adults aged 18 to 25:
    • 1.2% (or 63,000 people) reported past-year methamphetamine use
      • Compared to 0.5% for non-LGBTQIA+
    • LGBTQIA+ adults aged 26+:
      • 3.11% (or 328,000 people) reported past-year methamphetamine use
        • Compared to 1.1% for non-LGBTQIA+

Now let’s look at the rates of co-occurring SUD and mental illness and treatment for co-occurring SUD and mental illness among LGBTQIA+ people.

2020 NDSUH: Co-Occurring Disorders and The Treatment Gap (Adults 18+)

  • SUD and Any Mental Illness (AMI)
    • Total: 3.9 million
    • Received treatment for mental illness or SUD: 56.9%
    • Treatment for mental illness but not SUD: 50.2%
    • Received treatment for SUD but not mental health: 2.1%
    • Treatment for both: 4.6%
  • Treatment Gap:
    • Total: 95.4% of LGBTQIA+ people with co-occurring disorders did not get the treatment they needed

The data teach us that millions of LGBTQIA+ people in the U.S. experience addiction and mental illness. While some get treatment for addiction and others get treatment for mental illness, the facts tell us that over 95 percent do not get treatment for both. That’s something we need to improve. Evidence indicates that when a person with co-occurring disorders receives treatment for one disorder and not the other, both can deteriorate, but when a person with co-occurring disorders receives treatment for both disorders, both can improve.

How We Can All Participate in PRIDE Month

Let’s be clear: anyone and everyone can participate in PRIDE month. Identifying as lesbian, gay, trans, queer, intersex, aromantic or questions is not required. However, compassion, understanding, and a desire for equality and justice for all are required. If you support your LGBTQIA+ friends, then you’re called an ally.

Founded in 1985 as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), this influential gay rights advocacy group offers a list of ten things we can all do to be better friends and allies to the LGBTQIA+ community, which we’ll share now.

10 Ways to Be an Ally to the LGBTQIA+ Community

  1. Listen to members of the community when they raise their voices to advocate for themselves.
  2. Keep an open mind: leave your preconceptions behind and embrace the opportunity to learn something new.
  3. Talk about things you don’t understand with people who do. That’s how you learn.
  4. Practice inclusivity. Invite your LGBTQIA+ friends to any and all social events.
  5. Assume you may have friends or coworkers who are LGBTQIA+s – and you don’t know. They may look to you for support, compassion, and understanding, even if they haven’t come out to you yet. Give them the space they need to share personal information if and when they’re ready.
  6. Understand, once and for all, that jokes and judgmental comments about the LGBTQIA+ community cause real harm, perpetuate stigma, and can lead to violence. Don’t let friends, family members, and coworkers off the hook: if their jokes and comments are offensive, tell them.
  7. Examine, confront, and understand your personal biases and preconceptions, no matter how difficult or painful it might be.
  8. Stand up for your LGBTQIA+ friends against stigma, injustice, and discrimination.
  9. Embrace the concept that all people should be treated with compassion, respect, and dignity. All means all: no exceptions.
  10. Contact GLAAD if you see harmful representations of LGBTQIA+ people in the media.

Here’s something to consider:

When we all become allies, we can end stigma and level the playing field for our LGBTQIA+ friends, peers, and family members.

In 2023, these neighbors and friends need our support more than ever. While we have made significant progress over the past several decades, some recent developments put that progress at risk, and may undo years of work toward embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion in public life for many members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

We’ll close with a list of helpful resources for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

LGBTQIA+ Helpful Resources and Links

The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) provides this excellent list of LGBTQI friendly mental health resources for you:

If you know a member of the LGBTQIA+ community who needs help and support for addiction or another mental health disorder, please share this list with them – and offer any immediate support and compassion you can. In some cases, one kind word, one well-meaning friend, and one act of kindness can change everything.

During PRIDE Month, you can be that one person – and make a difference in the life of someone you care about.

The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.