Lesbian and gay community SEVEN TIMES more likely to take illegal drugs – yet aren’t getting adequate support

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are seven times more likely to take illegal drugs than the general population, according to a study by the LGF and the University of Central Lancashire.

Despite this, many from the lesbian and gay community feel they are unable to get the right support for problematic substance use as health services are unable to meet their specific needs.

Case studies taken from the research reveal users often took drugs and alcohol as a way of managing negative feelings related to isolation, confusion about one’s identity or the experience of discrimination.

Heather Williams, Policy & Research Manager from The Lesbian and Gay Foundation, said: “Drug and alcohol use is a major public health issue, and this study shows that LGB people are disproportionately affected.

“Those the LGB community are more likely to drink and take drugs, and then continue this into later life but are unable to get the support they need.”

The five-year study was carried out by The Lesbian & Gay Foundation in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire, in the hope of getting a snapshot of alcohol and drug use among the LGB community in England.

Around 35% of respondents admitted to taking at least one illicit drug in the last month. This figure is seven times higher than that which was reported by the British Crime Survey (2010/11) for the general population.

Patterns of drug use remained similar across the five years with cannabis, poppers, cocaine powder and ecstasy remaining the most popular.

Between a quarter and a fifth of respondents were substance dependent, which is also higher than the national average.

The drug use was common across all age groups, with more than a fifth of respondents aged 41-50 having taken at least one drug in the last month.

This differs from typical drug taking patterns reported in the general population where drug taking declines with age.

One case that highlights this trend is David; a bisexual man in his 50s who sought help for methamphetamine and heroin dependencies and was referred to a treatment agency by his GP.

He said he felt that too many constraints, such as regular drugs testing, interfered with his work.

David felt the service wasn’t used to dealing with people like him – someone who can manage to hold down a job and a family life. 

Drug and alcohol services often don’t address ‘high-functioning’ users, who seem to be more common in the LGB community.

Of those interviewed, many felt like they were an ‘outsider’ because of their sexual orientation and weren’t able to be open about their lifestyle and reasons behind their substance use when accessing support services.

Some also spoke of being afraid to come out to heterosexual service workers and peers.

One of the volunteers for the study, Susie, a lesbian in her late 20s, felt she had to hide her sexuality to other people in her recovery support group.

Susie said she lacked the confidence to come out as she was unsure how supportive her peers and service workers would be.

Other women would talk about their husbands or children, and she didn’t know if there were any other people in the same position as her.

Jez Buffin, Principle Lecture in the School of Social Work at UCLan, said: “This research has highlighted a number of significant differences between patterns of substance use among LGB and heterosexual people, and addresses what will be a costly problem in the future – both in terms of public spending and health.”

Off the back of the study, recommendations have been made for commissioners, policy makers, GPs, drug and alcohol service providers, researchers and the voluntary and community sector to address the problematic substance use of LGB people.

The recommendations also champions the voluntary and community sector offering complementary LGB-specific services, such as peer support groups and counselling.

Ms Williams said: “Those who plan and deliver health services must ensure that these services are inclusive of LGB people, in order to tackle this problem.”

To see the full report, click here.

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