HomeAddictionWhy Many LGBTQ Individuals See Discrimination as a Barrier to Care

Why Many LGBTQ Individuals See Discrimination as a Barrier to Care

Rainbow flag

LGBTQ pride may have come a long way, but society has some catching up to do.

Members of the LGBTQ community face much higher rates of substance misuse and disorder than heterosexual individuals. While this fact is bad enough on its own, it’s compounded by the fact that they’re also at increased risk for minority-based mistreatment including discrimination and victimization, according to “Meeting the Needs of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Clients in Substance Abuse Treatment” published in Counselor. 

Even worse? The same discrimination and victimization may also lead to poorer treatment outcomes for LGBTQ people.  Given these troubling statistics, it’s not surprising that many LGBTQ people are hesitant to pursue substance abuse treatment. Here’s a closer look at the phenomenon and why targeted treatment can play a vital role in helping to surmount this obstacle toward improved access to critical care.

Understanding the Phenomenon

Substance abuse treatment is considered a vital part of supporting an addict’s journey to recovery, health, and wellness.  However, not everyone benefits from these services. LGBTQ people, in particular, may not be positioned to get the care they need due to lack of specialized programming.

Researchers have linked several specific factors with impeding access to care within the LGBTQ community, including the following:

  • Care providers may be biased or lack the necessary cultural competence to treat LGBTQ individuals.

From lack of family acceptance to workplace biases, stereotypes and discrimination are pervasive in all aspects of LGBTQ life. These stressors are associated with elevated rates of substance abuse within the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, the healthcare sector is not exempt.

“If you’re never showing up to a provider’s office because you’re discriminated against every time you go there, then that hypertension that you have might never be diagnosed, even though you got it when you were 35. And then you have a heart attack or stroke at 65 or 55. Or someone might skip a screening that would have detected cancer,” Dr. Mitchell Lunn, co-director of “The PRIDE Study,” the first long-term national health study of people of all LGBTQ identities, told the American Heart Association.

Bias and lack of cultural competence can be especially detrimental in substance use recovery, which relies on the ability to be open and honest.

  • Not all “LGBT programs” offer specialized services.

Even LGBTQ individuals who seek out specialized treatment may encounter a major problem: Not all residential, outpatient, and partial hospitalization treatment programs that say they offer specialized care actually do, according to a study published in Substance Use & Misuse. 

In fact, one study concluded that more than 70 percent of so-called LGBTQ treatment programs offered the same services as those offered to the general population.

Meanwhile, just 7 percent could identify programming that was specifically tailored to LGBTQ needs.

In other words, just because a treatment program markets itself as providing LGBTQ programming doesn’t mean it actually delivers it.

  • Many LGBTQ individuals face lack of access to healthcare and healthcare coverage.

One last factor standing between many LGBTQ individuals and critical treatment? Members of this community are less likely to have healthcare coverage. Again, this is the result of many complex factors, including discrimination.

While LGBTQ people are explicitly protected against discrimination, it still occurs, often in the form of delays or denials of medically necessary care. Factor in the discrimination and mistreatment LGBTQ people face from care providers, and the problem worsens.

The Need for Cultural Competence in LGBTQ Addiction Treatment

It’s not all bad news, however. Research indicates that LGBTQ individuals are more likely to seek substance abuse treatment than their heterosexual peers. Additionally, the healthcare community is increasingly aware of the need for LGBTQ-specific treatment due to the increasing body of evidence pointing to its value.


LGBTQ addiction treatment by culturally competent providers can lead to the best recovery outcomes.

“Given the disparities reported here, it is essential that providers offer services that are inclusive of LGB individuals, and that services are provided in a manner that is affirming of LGB individuals and responsive to their unique health care needs,” assert the authors of “Meeting the Needs of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients in Substance Abuse Treatment.”

Cultural competency training will be instrumental in correcting the issue, according to a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health. “The minimal education that healthcare providers receive in cultural sensitivity when treating sexual minorities is pertinent because it may be a contributing factor to health disparities within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community,” conclude authors Nyia O. Garrison and Gladys E. Ibañez.

While it’s true that many substance abuse treatment programs fall short when it comes to providing LGBTQ-specific programming, others work hard to provide LGBTQ individuals with the targeted care they need — with the positive outcomes to show for it. As a leading St. Louis drug rehab, Harris House has been providing holistic and individualized drug and alcohol addiction treatment for more than 50 years. Contact us today to learn more about our specialized recovery programs for LGBTQ individuals.

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