What makes a treatment center LGBT-friendly?

Substance abuse within the LGBT community is higher than in the general population, making LGBT-friendly treatment centers more essential than ever. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment reports that LGBT youth are more likely to become addicted to substances and less likely to seek treatment. A 2005 Australian survey reported that 41.4% of LGBT adults drank more than eight alcoholic drinks per week, and half used recreational drugs. These higher rates of substance use and abuse may be due to depression, anxiety and cultural norms within the community. Guilt or anxiety surrounding one’s sexual or gender identity and overwhelming experiences of discrimination and social stigma contribute to depression for LGBT people. Drugs and alcohol become a means to self-medicate, to socialize, and to distract onself from the stresses associated with being LGBT.

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Since the challenges faced by chemically dependent LGBT people are unique, their treatment needs are unique as well. The right treatment center for an LGBT person will be staffed with individuals who hold positive and affirming views of LGBT people and are committed to providing a safe space for LGBT individuals to speak honestly about their lives. Treatment center staff should also be aware of LGBT cultural issues related to chemical dependency and treatment, such as the safety and freedom associated with gay bars, where alcohol consumption is an essential part of socializing and unwinding.

Treatment center staff should also have an understanding of the dynamics of stigma, victimization, discrimination, shame and disassociation that may be important contributors to substance abuse for LGBT persons. Treatment goals may include helping in the formation of a healthy sexual and/or gender identity and finding different methods of coping with painful emotions.

Transgender people seeking treatment may face additional barriers and therefore have additional needs. According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study, 30% of transgender people abuse substances, compared to 9% of the general population. High stress is a major contributor to transgender people’s high rate of self-medication with alcohol and drugs. Stress causing issues impacting transgender people may include threats of violence and severe and persistent discrimination in many aspects of life. Gender dysphoria, difficulties in accessing general medical treatment, difficulties in accessing hormones or surgery associated with transition, and the cascading economic, physical, and emotional consequences of marginalization are also very important factors.

A transgender-friendly treatment center will make sure that transgender people are treated appropriately in all ways within the program. For transgender-appropriate care, facilities should be committed to maintaining any hormone treatments that are in place, correctly gendering the client (that is, referring to the client by the correct name and pronouns, and, if applicable, placing the client in the appropriately gendered program). Staff should demonstrate complete respect and acceptance of the client’s stated gender identity. If the facility is segregated by gender, transgender people may be unwilling to participate, fearing gender-inappropriate treatment from both staff and other clients. A transgender-friendly treatment center will understand these concerns and work openly with the client to find an appropriate solution that is consistent with the individual’s gender identity.

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While it is not uncommon for a treatment center to make a stated commitment to non-discrimination, this alone does not ensure that the treatment will meet the specific needs of LGBT individuals. For those seeking an LGBT-friendly treatment center, it is important to ask detailed questions to make sure that the treatment given is appropriate, comprehensive and respectful. If you or someone you know is LGBT and suffering from chemical dependency, help is available.

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