Substance Use and Abuse in the LGBT Community
In a discussion of the epidemiology of substance use and abuse among LGBT individuals, the following two questions are of interest to providers:
· What is the epidemiology of substance use and abuse among LGBT individuals?
· Do LGBT individuals use or abuse more substances than heterosexuals or the
Epidemiology is the study of the patterns of disease and health problems in populations and the factors that influence these patterns. Prevalencerefers to the number of people in a given population who are affected by a particular disease at a certain time; it is frequently expressed in percentages. GLBT Substance Abuse
Incidence refers to the number of new cases of a disease or condition, such as alcoholism or drug abuse, in a given population over a specified time (such as a year).Rates of substance use and abuse vary from population to population. The numerous reasons for the varying rates include biological, genetic, psychological, familial, religious, cultural, and historical circumstances. The LGBT population is similar to the general population in that numerous factors predispose its members to substance abuse. However, some clinicians argue that the additional stigma and resulting tension of being a member of a marginalized community such as the LGBT community cause some members of the marginalized community to seek to manage these additional stressors by using mind altering substances.
Substance Abuse Among the GLBT Population
The precise incidence and prevalence rates of substance use and abuse by LGBT individuals have been difficult to determine for several reasons. Reliable information on the size of the LGBT population is not available. Scientific studies of LGBT individuals substance abuse do not always clearly define the difference between substance use and substance abuse, making it difficult to compare studies. Many studies have methodological flaws, such as the use of convenience samples that only infer or estimate substance abuse among the LGBT population. However, several promising studies are under way that, it is hoped, will provide additional information. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA's) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) will continue to report the results of these studies as they are completed. To provide background information for this publication, the authors conducted a review of the epidemiological literature, and 16 studies were chosen to highlight the extent of substance use or abuse problems in the LGBT population. The table in appendix D, Studies on LGBT Substance Abuse, presents a comparison of the studies. Studies were included if they focused on the LGBT population and substance abuse but did not focus primarily on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). These studies are considered classics and have been cited in numerous articles about LGBT individuals' substance abuse. The summary is by no means exhaustive; however, it provides the context for exploring the issue and has implications for future research.
Publication dates of articles about the selected studies range from 1970 to 2000. Of the 16studies, 10 focused primarily on substance abuse in the lesbian population, 3 focused on both lesbians and gay men, 1 focused exclusively on gay men, 1 focused exclusively on men who have sex with men (MSM), and 1 focused on transgender individuals. Eleven of the studies used convenience samples, and
five used population-based data. Most of the studies reported on alcohol use. These studies generally state that gay men and lesbians have greater substance abuse problems than non-LGBT men and women. In seven studies, comparisons between the LGBT population and the heterosexual population could not be made. Studies by Saghir and colleagues (1970); Fifield, DeCrescenzo, and Latham (1975); Lewis, Saghir, and Robins
(1982); and Morales and Graves (1983) found that approximately 30 percent of all lesbians have an alcohol abuse problem. Studies that compared gay men or lesbians with heterosexuals Stall & Wiley, 1988; McKirnan & Peterson, 1989; Bloomfield, 1993; Skinner, 1994; Skinner & Otis, 1996; Hughes & Wilsnack, 1997) found that gay men and lesbians were heavier substance and alcohol users than the general or heterosexual population. From these studies, it is clear that substance abuse treatment is needed and that providers need to know more about this community to provide competent treatment.