Research shows that LGBTQ youth are two to four times more likely to use substances than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. Drug and alcohol use at an early age increases the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder later in life. This means that LGBTQ teenagers are particularly at risk.
Parents and adults in the lives of LGBTQ teenagers have a big part to play when it comes to the decisions their children make about using drugs and alcohol. Measures should be taken by parents, teachers, and other adults to make sure LGBTQ teenagers feel safe and accepted. This will help decrease the likelihood of teenagers who identify as LGBTQ using substances as a problematic coping mechanism.
Why are LGBTQ Teens More at Risk?
Homophobia, bullying, discrimnation, stigma, and religious and moral judgments experienced by LGBTQ youth can lead to feelings of loneliness, confusion, and depression.These feelings are ones typically associated with higher rate of drug and alcohol use, particularly among teenagers and young adults.
While it’s unlikely that these negative experiences associated with sexual and gender identities can be avoided completely, parents and families play a big role in preventing or contributing to them. Young people whose families are supportive of their identities are better able to face other stressors, such as bullying and negative messages about LGBTQ identities in the media.
Family and Community Support
Family support means much more than tolerating an LGBTQ identity. Active support includes things like acceptance of a teen’s LGBTQ friends, discussing LGBTQ issues, taking teens to LGBTQ events, and appreciating and approving clothing and appearance styles that may not fall into gender norms. In addition to decreasing a teen’s likelihood to use drugs and alcohol, these actions will also help with self-esteem, self-acceptance, mental health, and consequently, overall health.
Like having a supportive family, it is important for LGBTQ young people to have other positive relationships with adults in their lives. This includes teachers and other youth-serving professionals, such as coaches, counselors, religious leaders, etc. Supportive adults also help create an accepting climate within schools and communities which in turn, lead to less likelihood of feelings of not belonging and substance use.
Harassment and bullying are major factors in whether or not a young person is at risk for substance use. If schools are able to create an environment where LGBTQ students are treated with dignity, respect, and acceptance, it can help decrease likelihood of substance use.
How to Help a Teen Who is Already Struggling
If you are worried that an LGBTQ teenager in your life may already be using drugs and alcohol in a problematic way, it’s possible that they may need counseling or treatment. If a treatment program is going to be a part of a young person’s recovery it is also important that the program is prepared to affirm their LGBTQ identity.
This online guide from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids will help you further navigate what to do if you suspect a teenager in your life is using drugs or alcohol. You can also call the Partnership’s toll-free helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE for one-on-one support.