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Depending on the statistics that you believe, the incidence of dependence within the gay and lesbian population is 2 to 3 times higher than the general population. Obviously, the epidemic levels of substance abuse need to be tackled effectively, and gay, lesbian and transgender people need rehab options that effectively treat their addictions, while remaining sensitive and cognizant of the unique issues facing their particular community.

While some have argued that the prevalence of addiction as reported is exaggerated due to methods of collecting data from within gay bars (one of the few gay friendly public venues across the country) even accounting for the collection methods, data clearly indicates a high level of abuse. Thankfully, in response to this abuse, many treatment centers have begun to offer gay, lesbian and transgender specific rehabs, as well as gay, lesbian and transgender friendly rehabs, within a mixed population of heterosexuals.

Proponents of the two types of rehabs debate their relative merits, but the option to choose is a newfound luxury to many in the gay and lesbian community, and with greater choice comes a better ability to select a treatment facility in which you truly feel comfortable.

Substance Abuse Within the Gay Communities

Negative emotions, social pressures, discrimination and lifestyle behaviors may all contribute to the prevalence of addictions within the gay community.

While no two addicts, whether gay or straight, will have identical backgrounds leading to abuse, there are some societal conditions that seem uniquely able to induce substance abuse, and many of these societal conditions are imposed upon the gay and lesbian communities.

Negative emotions

Feelings of shame can often induce substance abuse for coping, and feelings of shame within the gay and lesbian community seem to trigger high levels of use and abuse. Whether shame from a failure to meet familial expectations, personal shame through the hiding of a true sexual orientation, or shame at behaviors that may conflict with taught values of an upbringing; shame plays an important role in understanding the high levels of abuse within the gay, lesbian and transgender communities. Shame leads to anger and to resentments, and to an intolerable internalization of negative emotions. Often substance abuse is the only perceived release from these feelings.


Discrimination also induces abuse. Gays and lesbians experience persistent discrimination for their lifestyle and relationships, and the sensation of discrimination, which is very unpleasant, can provoke substance abuse as a way of coping. Intolerant communities create environments of hate that can be very traumatic to endure. Additionally, due to the discrimination of gays and lesbians, one of the few completely safe and accepted environments within the community is the gay bar; and when much social interaction occurs within a bar, the possibility for substance abuse and addiction increases.

The period of coming out can also induce substance abuse. Always a very stressful and confusing period, the trauma of a major life change can create an environment very conducive to substance abuse and addiction.


Additionally, some parts of the gay lifestyle, and the party and play mentality of some club going gays and lesbians, increases the risks of abuse. Crystal meth, long prominent within the gay club scene, has emerged as a substantial problem within the gay community, and since crystal meth also leads too often to risky sexual behaviors, the combination of crystal meth and a loss of inhibitions can be deadly.

Similarities to Conventional Rehab

Although the causes to abuse may be unique within the gay and lesbian community, the treatment of addiction remains primarily the same.

Gay and lesbian addicts in recovery should have their unique needs met, but the best way to enable recovery is through the traditional methods of individual therapy, group sessions and peer counseling, behavioral modification and cognitive training, drug and alcohol abuse education, meditation and reflection, good nutrition, recreation and an enforced period of sobriety.

Whether gay or straight, our biology remains the same, and we all tackle a very similar experience with addiction.

How Does Gay/ Lesbian Rehab Differ?

Gay and lesbian rehabs need not differ substantially from conventional rehabs, but there needs to be an awareness of the unique life stresses and experiences of members within this community, a sensitivity and acceptance of sexual orientation, and specific programming available that meets the needs of the unique challenges facing gays and lesbians in recovery.

The most vital factor is simply that a recovering gay or lesbian addict feel very comfortable within the rehab environment, and feel able to open up and heal without fear of repercussion or discrimination from either the staff or the other participating addicts in recovery.

Some argue that a gay only rehab environment is the only truly safe place for recovery, and conversely others opine that since the "real world" is a mixed world, healing within a community of diverse individuals, yet in a gay aware and safe place, is the better alternative.

A gay and lesbian rehab must address the sexual orientation and distinct needs of participating gay addicts directly. Research has shown that gays and lesbians prefer to have their sexuality addressed directly by staff within the facility, and to factor in their sexual orientation, and the unique stresses they face as a result, in all aspects of programming.

Although a mixed rehab environment can work well, any gay and lesbian friendly environment should offer some specific programming and education to meet the unique and specific needs of participating gay and lesbian addicts.

Choosing a Gay & Lesbian Rehab

Ultimately, the first priority when evaluating a gay and lesbian rehab program should be the strength of the programming offered within. The treatment approaches and philosophy of recovery should match internalized beliefs, and the addict should feel comfortable with the staff and the facility.

Secondly, the degree of gay specific programming should be evaluated. Participants will have to select whether they are more comfortable within a gay only environment, or within a gay friendly but mixed environment. Ultimately this decision should be made after considering a personal comfort level with the individual facilities, staff and programming.

The last, but not unimportant evaluation, is an evaluation of the facilities, the recreation offered and the comfort level of the accommodations. The rehab period is difficult and can be uncomfortable, and whether you are gay or straight, being comfortable in the environment can make the process just a little bit easier.

Thankfully the unique needs of the gay, lesbian and transgender community are being better met through a variety of rehab programs designed with the unique needs of this community in mind; and since the abuse statistics within the gay and lesbian community are so high, gays and lesbians with substance abuse problems need to take the first step to healing at a gay and lesbian rehab program.

With time, increasing tolerance and acceptance of the community, maybe addiction rates will decline, for now; gay and lesbian rehab is a very sensible option.

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Page last updated Oct 06, 2015

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