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LGBTQ+ individuals and addiction

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

I have the honor of speaking on a panel this week for a Pride Month event that supports addiction recovery among my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. I’ve been reviewing statistics and research in anticipation of this. It’s a sobering reminder, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The numbers are terrifying. Folks who identify as LGBTQ+ are more than twice as likely to have used illicit drugs in the past year. My brothers and sisters are far more likely to binge drink and smoke cigarettes. They’re more likely to have mental illness and suicidality. As horrible as all those realities are, they’re even worse for LGBTQ+ adolescents. All of this is in no small part due to living with chronically higher levels of stress than heterosexuals.

Rarely do I prepare before speaking to any group. I speak from my heart. I connect with kindred spirits, educate others, and offend a certain percentage. I’m ok with that, but I caught myself being concerned when I thought about this panel. I realized it’s because I have a message that can easily be misconstrued. At face value it is very much a contradiction:

I care deeply, and I do not care at all.

I don’t care what anyone’s sexual orientation is. To me, that’s like what color eyes you have. I’m cool with you having brown, blue, or hazel, and it won’t make any difference at all in terms of me wanting to know you and have you as a friend. But I do care what your sexual orientation is in that I recognize social injustice and oppression and I want to help change it. I view it as a personal responsibility.

I care deeply about the barriers LGBTQ+ folks face in seeking all forms of recovery.

It’s part of my social privilege that I forget things. I forget that there are healthcare professionals who are homophobic. I forget that 12 step groups are overwhelmingly heterosexual and include members who are not welcoming to LGBTQ+ folks. I forget that lots of addiction treatment centers claim that they provide specialized services for LGBTQ+ folks but don’t (plenty of research to back that bullshit up).

I get reminded when I realize a client is feeling me out – testing me – am I an ally or another hetero white guy who doesn’t get it? I get reminded when my friends are called “he” or “she” and there’s an almost indiscernible cringe. I get reminded when cis folks are bewildered by concepts like being non-binary or genderqueer as if you can’t just Google aspects of identity and respect them.

I get reminded that lots of folks didn’t get the memo: educate yourself and don’t be an asshole.

I get reminded when hate becomes so obvious – like when we elect a man like Donald Trump.

So, I get to use my social privilege, my standing in the community, and my professional role to scream from the mountaintops: If you are struggling to get/stay sober, recovery from trauma, mental illness, an eating disorder or self-injury then I want to be your ally and a resource.

I care deeply, and I do not care at all.

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