LGBT Addiction Resources in Seattle
Even in progressive, LGBT-friendly cities such as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and New York, sexual minorities face unique and harrowing challenges. The stress that comes from stigma and discrimination causes gay, lesbian, and transgender people to be two to three times more prone to substance abuse than their heterosexual counterparts.
In March, 2012, the Center for American Progress—a leading public policy research organization—published a report which found disproportionately high rates of substance abuse among gay and transgender people. Synthesizing data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other scientific studies, the organization claims that an estimated 20-30% of gay and transgender Americans have abused substances, compared to 9% of the general public—a significant detriment to the health of the LGBT community.
- Gay and transgender people smoke tobacco up to 200% more than their heterosexual and nontransgender peers.
- 25% of gay and transgender people abuse alcohol, compared to 5 to 10% of the general population.
- Men who have sex with men are 3.5x more likely to use marijuana than men who do not have sex with men.
- These men also are 12.2x more likely to use amphetamines than men who do not have sex with men.
- They are also 9.5x more likely to use heroin than men who do not have sex with men.
Why are these rates so high? Ken Shulman, the Executive Director at Seattle’s Lambert House, describes why LGBT individuals are more likely to succumb to substance abuse:
The stress of living on the street, possibly engaging in survival sex in order to have a burger and a bed for a night, watching his or her school career go down the tubes, knowing that their college expectations are now impossible, and having no adults at all that they can talk with, makes the use of alcohol or other drugs appealing as an escape and coping mechanism for the extreme emotional pain they feel due to being rejected by the ones they love the most and cut off from every human support known to them.
All too often, when these individuals go to addiction treatment services, they face the same isolation and social stigmas as well as other stigmas surrounding intravenous drugs, relapse, etc. Despite recent waves of support for marriage equality and historically gay-friendly neighborhoods in certain U.S. cities, the overall well-being of the LGBT community is rarely addressed. From the Center for American Progress report:
A lack of culturally competent health care services fuels substance-use rates among gay and transgender people. Gay and lesbian adults are twice less likely than other Americans to have health insurance, since most workplaces still don't provide insurance benefits to same-sex couples. Our health care system needs to better meet the needs of gay and transgender people, and our government needs to advance public policies that promote equality for this population.
A recent study reached out to 854 addiction treatment services in America: only 62 (7.3%) of those agencies indicated specialized LGBT programming (almost half were in New York and California), and only 79 (9.3%) of the programs described themselves as “non-discriminating.”
Aleks Martin, a Chemical Dependency Counselor at Seattle Counseling Service, explains why LGBTQ people need specialized treatment:
The coming out process can be instrumental in one’s addiction – say, a young queer person may come out to his or her family, but be rejected and end up homeless. The coming out process is a foreign subject to “heterosexual” treatment. Some people refer to their substance use rooting from shame and guilt of being LGBTQ – the only means to feel acceptance and understanding is to drink and/or get high. It numbs the pain of rejection; it allows the person not to feel how different they are from a socially-constructed viewpoint that being other-than-straight is not normal.
It is critical that LGBTQ clients feel welcomed and that the facility honors safe space for all. It is important for the LGBTQ client to feel honored as an individual and respected as a human being despite his or her addiction issues. When LGBTQ clients withhold information because of fear or shame, that person does not have the opportunity to be authentic, and that can gravely impact their recovery. Much like language is a barrier for non-English speaking populations where an interpreter would be essential, LGBTQ populations speak a cultural ‘language’ unique to the LGBTQ community.
Luckily for LGBT people in Seattle—especially on Capitol Hill—a range of specialized services exist to help recover from drug abuse, addiction, and other mental health concerns.
LGBT Addiction Resources in Seattle
- Seattle Counseling Service is a community resource that advocates, educates, and serves to advance the social well-being and mental health of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transexual communities.
- Project NEON (Needle Exchange and Sex Education Outreach Network) is a harm-reduction program for gay and bisexual male users of crystal methamphetamine. Their aim is to raise awareness about the links between crystal use and HIV, hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases, and other health concerns.
- It Gets Better is an empowerment project for LGBT youth focusing on inspiring change, advocating LGBT rights, and preventing bullying, depression, and suicide.
- Lambert House is a youth center for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals that empowers youth through the development of leadership, social, and life skills.
- ISIS House is a transitional housing program for LGBTQ homeless youth. Founded in 1998, it is one of the only LGBT-specific homeless youth programs in the Pacific Northwest.
- Out for Sustainability is the first nonprofit in the world to connect sexual orientation with sustainability values. Their volunteer-based network engages, mobilizes, and educates the LGBTQ community to advance social and environmental sustainability.
- The Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse works to end violence and abuse by building loving and equitable relationships in our community and across the country.
- The Ingersoll Center is a mutual support and education organization for transgender, gender variant, and genderqueer people, as well as the people who support them.