According to, an estimated 20-30% of the LGBTQ+ community abuse substances. Substance abuse is prevalent among members of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community because of the social stigma and challenges they face in achieving fair and equal treatment. Homophobia and transphobia make members of the LGBTQ+ community at greater risk of harassment and violence, increasing their risk of emotional and behavioral issues. Substance use becomes common as a coping measure to deal with social isolation and trauma; when left unchecked, excessive drug and alcohol use can escalate to substance abuse.

Recovery for the LGBTQ+ Community

The challenges that members of the LGBTQ+ community face don’t stop with the increased risk for substance use, addiction, and mental health issues. Unfortunately, they also encounter obstacles when entering recovery.

Substance abuse disorders and establishing long-term sobriety are best handled by a team of experts, which often include sponsor/sponsee relationships. However, traditional 12-step recovery models continue to segregate by gender and sometimes religion. The argument remains that it’s best to pair women with other women and men with other men. Developing romantic and sexual relationships between sponsee and sponsor can complicate recovery.

While the reasoning behind preventing romantic relationships between sponsee and sponsor is sound, the problem is that it doesn’t address the unique connections and experiences that members of the LGBTQ+ community have. We know that trust and rapport are crucial to maintaining healthy sponsorship relationships. Unfortunately, a heterosexual man may not be able to relate to the challenges that a gay man faces; or a lesbian whose straight sponsor struggles to build an emotional connection, particularly when the person’s addiction triggers are related to their sexual identity. With traditional recovery models, there’s also the concern of how to pair members of the transgender and nonbinary community with the right sponsor.

Improving Access to Treatment

Historically, the conventional 12-step recovery program has been effective, but participants can often long for additional inclusivity. Increasing access to recovery services for the LGBTQ+ community must start with recognizing and respecting the wide spectrum of gender and sexual orientation. Automatic segregation based on two main genders should no longer be the norm. Just as we’ve seen an increased demand for gender-neutral bathrooms, treatment facilities should also be creating spaces that ensure the emotional and physical security of all gender identities.

To improve treatment and recovery outcomes, facilities should promote LGBTQ+ culture and disseminate supportive training programs for primary care providers. Staff should be educated on inclusive behaviors. Program policies that recognize the unique needs of LGBTQ+ patients should be implemented. Counselors can realize the hesitation to seek treatment by many LGBTQ+ individuals stems from negative past experiences with health care providers who were either phobic or not trained to address their unique needs.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has released a comprehensive guide on substance abuse treatment for the LGBTQ+ community. The guide stresses the importance of counselor competency in treating patients and providing good quality, fair, ethical, and competent treatment to LGBT clients.

Communicare is one of the facilities receiving SAMHSA funding. As a certified community behavioral health clinic serving six counties in Mississippi, we provide high-quality inclusive clinical services and a promise to provide services regardless of sexual orientation.