As we acknowledge the month of pride and celebrate this continued movement, one of the things that we can never forget is the struggles that many people apart of the LGBTQ+ community face. For years, this community has gone through unimaginable hardships and fought through many battles in order to be seen, heard and treated with respect. However, one of the battles that still has a heavy impact on LGBTQ+ individuals is addiction and the cause of it. Though a community that is represented by the colors of the rainbow and stands bright and proud in who they are, the pain that they’ve had to endure over the years is sometimes unbearable and can lead them to find an escape through substance abuse. Statistics have even proven that LGBTQ+ adults are twice as likely to use illegal drugs when compared to heterosexual adults. To understand the cause for substance abuse, we need to understand why it even happens in the first place.
First, is the discrimination against them. Though much progression has been made — such as many states giving LGBTQ+ couples the right to marry — there still remains a lot of discrimation and social stigma against members of this community. For simply being who they are, LGBTQ+ individuals continue to face harassment and are even fearful for their lives. In 2020 alone, nearly 50 transgender individuals had their lives taken from them, simply because they were freely living their lives as themselves. On top of the hate crimes against them, many LGBTQ+ individuals are shunned by family, friends, or even complete strangers, making it even harder for them to live and cope within a world that has people who hate them for who they are. To cope with the discrimination, many LGBTQ+ members turn to substances, giving them a means to escape their reality and forget about the dangers that come with living life as their true selves.
Second, is not receiving the support they need. Can you imagine how hard it must be to walk throughout the world, hiding your true identity to please everyone else? To have to wake up every day and not be authentic to who you know yourself to be? To suppress your true feelings because you don’t want to bring harm to yourself or anyone else around you? This is a reality that many LGBTQ+ individuals face every single day. Maybe they don’t want to disappoint their parents; maybe they’ve seen how others weren’t accepted or supported; maybe it’s just easier to hide than to fight. Either way, coping with living a lie is not an easy task, and can result in a person feeling isolated and create a lack of self-love. How can you love yourself if you aren’t yourself? And sometimes, the support they seek out is by the means of a controlled substance. Unlike people, a substance isn’t judgmental and isn’t telling them to be something they are not — it sometimes pushes them to be their full selves when in that state of mind.
Third, is internalized homophobia. Though it sounds impossible, the world illustrating homosexuality to be so bad can make those who idenitfy as such to agree with this. They do their best to “not be gay” and to live a life that society approves of, but this is just another way that stirs up internal hate. LGBTQ+ individuals begin to hate who they are and who they want to be; they never feel comfortable in their own skin and sometimes wish they could just remove themselves from it. In those moments, they sometimes seek a way to just breathe and not feel so bad about who they are — a lot of the time this is found in an illicit drug. When under the influence, it doesn’t matter what the world — or their inner self — has to say about their identity and, for a moment, they can know what freedom feels like.
These are just some of the factors that contribute to LGBTQ+ individuals turning to substances. However, though the fight to exist freely continues, the good news is that much progress has been made over the years. There are people around the world supporting the lives of those who identify as LGBTQ+ and showing them that they don’t need to hide any more. That, though the world still has a lot of growing up to do, the growth is happening and will only continue. This pride month, check on your LGBTQ+ friends; make sure they know they are supported; that you are right there with them fighting against the discrimination; and that they don’t have to hide or hate who they truly are.