Helping LGBTQIA+ community members struggling with substance abuse, mental health

Published: June 15, 2022 10:22 PM EDT
Updated: June 15, 2022 11:16 PM EDT

There is an effort to raise awareness for those who identify themselves in the LGBTQIA+ community and are struggling with substance abuse and mental health.

12.9% percent of people in the LGBTQIA+ community suffer from substance use disorder and have a mental illness, according to a 2019 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Frank was 13 years old the first time he tried drugs.

“I didn’t really want to exist. So it gave me a relief to just kind of cope with what I was going through. That battle around, oh, I’m gay, but I’m going to hell, or I’m not good enough for people, life,” said Frank, who has been in recovery for 13 years.

Growing up in a religious family, Frank said drugs were his way to escape the pressure to conceal his true self. “I knew, I’ve always known I was gay. So when I first started to do drugs, it was just kind of this relief.”

His story isn’t unique. A 2019 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey found that 18.3% of adults in the LGBTQIA+ community had some substance use disorder.

“I had this idea in the back of my head that I was wrong for the way I was, and I couldn’t change it. But when I did drugs, when I got drunk, or when I got high, none of that mattered anymore,” said Frank.

Lydia Burr sees this all the time as director of clinical services for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Naples.

“People from the LGBTQIA+ community are disproportionately impacted by substance use disorder and a lot of it has to do with safety and finding community and family for people who may not no longer be connected to their biological family, and the need to connect and the difficulty doing so without the use of substances,” said Burr.

For Frank, connecting and finding community with friends he could trust got him the help he needed.

“I had a moment, a moment of clarity, where I became willing to listen to like, oh, there are other ways to live, other than getting high, using drugs, you know, and it was a process, it was a process of doing everything different,” said Frank.

Frank has now been clean for 13 years. He says his life has had plenty of ups and downs since then, but finding people going through the same things as him has given him the sense of community needed to get through it.

If you would like to learn more about the results of the 2019 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study, you can read a report on the findings in the document below.

Click to access 2019-National-Survey-on-Drug-Use-and-Health.pdf