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LGBTQ Addiction Treatment Resources Guide

Addiction does not discriminate. Regardless of age, gender, or even sexual identity, people can struggle with a substance use disorder. The number of people battling addiction is staggering— with nearly 21.5 million people in the United States struggling with a substance use disorder alone according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

And, like everyone else, the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) community is not immune. In fact, substance and alcohol use disorders have a more significant impact on the LGBTQ community than the heterosexual community. Due to the numerous obstacles facing LGBTQ individuals, such as being unable to receive proper addiction treatment because of their sexual identity, overcoming addiction can be even more challenging. 

If you are ready to take the first step and start your journey in recovery, it’s important to look for certain features in LGBTQ addiction treatment, as not all facilities are specialized in LGBTQ treatment.

LGBTQ treatment requires special amenities and services in order to meet the LGBTQ individuals personal needs. 

Is There LGBTQ Treatment?

In order to meet the demand for LGBTQ addiction treatment, more addiction treatment facilities are opening up to specifically cater to this demographic. Still, other addiction treatment centers are implementing LGBTQ addiction treatment programs into their curricula to facilitate their services to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ people.

Read more about LGBTQ addiction treatment and the relationship LGBTQ individuals have with substance abuse disorders in this guide. Finding the right LGBTQ treatment program is important to you or your loved one’s success in recovery and ability to overcome addiction. 

Substance Use and the LGBTQ Community

The statistics and trends surrounding LGBTQ drug use are concerning, especially given the more limited LGBTQ addiction treatment options that are available. 

Statistics and Trends

LGBTQ individuals have a higher propensity for substance abuse and a higher rate of substance/alcohol use disorders than the rest of the community. Many addiction professionals attribute this relationship between LGBTQ individuals and substance abuse to the stigma, discrimination, and other challenges faced by their community on a daily basis.

It is no secret that individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are at a greater risk of being the subjects of harassment or even violence. These and other stressors facing LGBTQ people lead to a greater prevalence of behavioral health issues, including substance and alcohol abuse. Here are some of the frightening statistics surrounding LGBTQ substance abuse:

  • LGBTQ adults are twice as likely as heterosexual adults to have used an illicit drug within the past year with 39.1 percent versus 17.1 percent.
  • 1 in 10 (10.4 percent) LGBTQ adults misused prescription pain relievers compared to 4.5 percent of heterosexual adults.
  • A larger percentage of LGBTQ adults between ages 18 and 64 reported binge drinking (five drinks or more on a single occasion) than heterosexual adults.
  • LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) adolescents also have higher rates of substance use than heterosexual adolescents at 3.4 times the rate.
  • LGBTQ individuals have a higher rate of struggling with comorbid mental health disorders, or dual diagnosis.
  • LGBTQ addiction treatment programs are not as readily available than those for heterosexual individuals, with only 7.4 percent of addiction treatment programs offering specialized services for LGBTQ patients.

Why Do LGBTQ People Use Drugs?

These statistics shed light on a serious issue plaguing the LGBTQ community. Overall, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals are more likely to struggle with a substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder or a dual diagnosis. But why is it that this particular subset of individuals struggles so vehemently with substance abuse?

According to recent research and studies asking this very same question, there are several different reasons believed to the driving forces behind LGBTQ drug and alcohol use. The following factors contribute to the increase of drug use in this community:

  • Significant daily stressors
  • Lack of culturally competent health care services
  • Facing battles with stigma and discrimination

These factors have led to the decline in available mental health care services available to the LGBTQ community and have led to the increase of substance abuse issues. To fully address the need for equality in health care for LGBTQ people, having proper LGBTQ addiction treatment available is the first step to make progress in getting LGBTQ mental health care under control. 

LGBTQ Addiction Therapy Approaches

There are seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to addiction therapy. Again, addiction is a unique disorder. The way it impacts and affects each person looks different. This means that every addict or alcoholic will respond to addiction treatment in their own way. In order to meet the need for different avenues for addiction treatment, different addiction therapy approaches have been implemented in most addiction treatment programs.

Here are some of the common addiction therapy approaches you may encounter:

  • Humanistic Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
  • Trauma Therapy
  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Motivational Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Expressive Therapy
  • Holistic Therapy

Inpatient Vs. Outpatient

Another important facet of addiction treatment to consider is whether to go inpatient or outpatient. There is a stark difference between these two approaches to addiction treatment, as one provides more intense clinical and medical intervention than the other.

Inpatient treatment refers to living at the addiction treatment facility. You’ll be provided with housing and different amenities depending on the facility/program you attend. Typically, private facilities will offer far more luxuries than government programs. At the inpatient level, you’ll be sequestered away from the community at large, allowing the entire focus to be shifted off of outside distractions and placed solely on treatment and recovery. 

Typically when you’re in an inpatient program, you’ll have far more therapy sessions that are more intensive in nature as well. Most of your day will be spent in different therapy groups in which you can address your substance use disorder and underlying emotional issues. Inpatient is great for people who need more assistance both medically and clinically.

Outpatient programs provide you with far more freedom than inpatient treatment, which can actually be a bad thing in early recovery. Without a strong foundation in recovery prior to entering outpatient, you may find that it is difficult to stay clean and sober during your off-time. You also cannot simply join an outpatient program without fully detoxing first, as being medically stabilized is a prerequisite to all outpatient programs. 

Public Vs. Private

When looking for an addiction treatment facility, it’s also important to consider whether you wish to attend a public or private facility. Public and private addiction treatment facilities differ in a number of ways. 

Public facilities are typically government-funded, meaning taxpayers and local bodies of government usually pay for the services that are provided to the community. Public facilities may cost little to no money, whereas private facilities will charge for their services.

The major tradeoff is at public facilities, despite being cheap or free, you will have very limited amenities available. This comes in the form of luxuries such as extracurricular activities and nice accommodations and even the addiction treatment program curriculum. Due to more limited funding, public facilities have less addiction therapy methods available and can usually not facilitate individualized treatment plans. They instead operate on a one-size-fits-all basis, so you are limited to only receiving whatever services they offer.

Private facilities are privately owned and operated by a source of income stemming from investors or the owner of the facility. Usually, private facilities accept health insurance as payment, leaving little to no cost out-of-pocket for patients or will even have different payment plans available to make treatment affordable.

When talking about LGBTQ addiction treatment, public facilities are far less likely to offer LGBTQ specialized services as well. At private facilities, they will be able to accommodate your specific needs, including members of the LGBTQ community. Having LGBTQ treatment options available is crucial to your success in recovery. 

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The Full Continuum of Care

Completing the full continuum of care is crucial to your success in LGBTQ addiction treatment. The full continuum of care refers to successfully finishing every level of addiction treatment care. It is set up in a “step-down” fashion, so beginning with the highest level of care, you will move to a lower level care each time you complete that portion of treatment.

Higher levels of care possess greater medical and clinical intervention. This means that the medical staff (doctors, nurses, and medical support staff) and the clinical staff (therapists, case managers, and support staff) will be more “hands-on” in your treatment. Greater levels of medical and clinical intervention are necessary during the precarious beginning stages of addiction treatment.

The idea behind the full continuum of care is to provide you with the appropriate support, freedom, and personal responsibility to your recovery at that particular stage in treatment. As more time passes and you receive more therapeutic and medical treatment, you’ll be more grounded in your recovery. At that point, you’ll be able to handle the greater amounts of personal freedom and responsibility of your life/recovery without relapsing, or returning to active drug and/or alcohol use. 


The first level of care in the full continuum of care is medical detox. At this stage, you’ll have just stopped using drugs and/or alcohol. Your body and brain will be in a transitional state, attempting to regulate themselves after prolonged substance abuse. 

The period of time in which your body is regulating itself once more can cause the manifestation of many uncomfortable or even dangerous physical and psychological symptoms. This is known as the withdrawal process. The withdrawal process for each individual drug is different since each drug functions in your body in a unique way.

Certain substances can cause minor, moderate, or severe withdrawal symptoms. Other factors that affect the extent of your withdrawal process are age, length of time using substances, and the average amount of the drug you were taking. Detox aims to guide you through the withdrawal process quickly and safely as possible.

Not all withdrawal symptoms are physical. This is where the clinical team comes in. Often, people experience a strong emotional response to the withdrawal process. Having access to clinical support can ease the transition from active addiction to sobriety. Minor therapy sessions are also provided during detox so as to start taking a look at the underlying causes of addiction and other emotional issues you may be dealing with.


Following your successful completion of detox, it is recommended that you continue following the full continuum of care. This means heading off to inpatient or residential treatment once you’re medically stabilized. Since detox does not really do much therapeutic or clinical work on the psychological aspect of addiction, at this point you’ll have only received treatment for the physical portion. Without following through to the next levels of care, you’re at a heightened risk of relapsing.

At inpatient or residential treatment, you’ll be living at the facility. Here, you’ll undergo full-time therapy that offers a curriculum dedicated to providing different addiction therapy approaches. This level completes the majority of the therapeutic heavy lifting, and really addresses the underlying causes of addiction as well the different emotional or mental health issues you may be battling. 

Here, you’ll learn different coping mechanisms, life skills, and work on yourself so as to better prepare yourself for life in recovery beyond treatment. Since recovery doesn’t end when you complete your LGBTQ addiction treatment program, it’s important to be ready to handle the stressors and challenges that lie ahead.

Intensive Outpatient

After inpatient or residential treatment comes intensive outpatient or IOP. IOP is different from inpatient in the sense that you no longer live at the facility. At this level of care, you must find alternative housing and commute to your IOP sessions.

IOP is beneficial because rather than undergoing full-time therapy, it relaxes to part-time. You’ll usually do around 20 hours of IOP per week, broken down into multiple, several-hour long sessions. Here, you’ll still have intensive therapy sessions that provide substantial clinical intervention that helps you transition from the safe, sequestered environment of inpatient back into society at large.

You’ll be able to have more personal freedom and responsibilities but still have emotional and therapeutic support. You will also be subjected to random drug tests each week to be sure that you are maintaining abstinence on your free time.

This helps keep you both accountable and on track in your recovery. 


The last stage of the full continuum of care in LGBTQ treatment is routine outpatient. This level is similar to IOP in that you’ll need to find alternative housing and treatment is only part-time. However, rather than around 20 hours per week, it will drop down to usually one hour per week.

At this point, you should be fairly self-sufficient in your recovery. You’ll be able to handle more free time and take more accountability for your own recovery without such a great risk of relapse. By maintaining attendance to your outpatient sessions, you’ll still have access to clinical support. As you make the final transition from rehab into the rest of society, it’s important to still make an active effort in therapy in order to continue your personal growth in treatment.

You will still need to submit random drug tests to ensure you’re on track, but you are on your own for most of the time. By successfully following through with outpatient, you can solidify your place in recovery and have a point of clinical contact if you ever face challenges in your daily life. 

What to Look for in LGBTQ Addiction Treatment


You must consider the accessibility of the treatment facility. It’s important to know whether the facility will be able to meet certain needs unique to the LGBTQ community. This may include catering to any hormone therapy you may require if you’re a transgendered person or being sure that you will not face discrimination based on your sexual identity.

Methods of Treatment

Considering the methods of treatment used at the facility is a crucial portion of proper LGBTQ or gay addiction treatment. Different rehab centers offer different addiction therapy approaches, and many members of the LGBTQ demographic have past trauma that may require PTSD therapy or other therapy approaches. In order to be successful in treatment, you must receive the appropriate addiction therapy methods, so taking a close look at the curriculum prior to admission is a must. 

LGBTQ Addiction Treatment Program

Obviously, you want to ask if the facility has a specialized LGBTQ addiction treatment program. Certain addiction treatment centers have programs designed to specifically address substance or alcohol use disorders among members of this demographic. This should be a major priority for you when searching for the right program because having addiction professionals engaging you in treatment specifically designed to meet your needs can be the difference between relapse and recovery.

Supportive Staff

Lastly, you should ensure that the medical and clinical staff members will be able to provide you with the support you need during the difficult time spent in addiction treatment. Regardless of sexual orientation, having a caring, knowledgeable, and understanding staff is important. Addiction treatment is not easy; it will be an emotional journey as you address different past experiences and underlying mental health issues. Without having a supportive staff administering your treatment, you may not get the help that you need during your stay.


SAMHSA. (2015, September). Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017, September 05). Substance Use and SUDs in LGBT Populations. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from

Hunt, J. (n.d.). Why the Gay and Transgender Population Experiences Higher Rates of Substance Use. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What is drug addiction treatment? Retrieved April 12, 2018, from

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