Lesbians are significantly more likely than heterosexual women to drink alcohol heavily. A study published in 2004 from the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services noted the incidence of substance abuse among lesbians is far higher than their heterosexual peers.

LGBT addictionWe previously discussed the first step in the process of coming out, self acceptance.  Once someone accepts that they are in fact LGBTQ, they are then faced with a situation that no other group of people faces…how, when, where and to whom do they disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity?  Most people in our society have a default setting which assumes the people around them are straight.  This is an example of heterosexism and it is the reason an LGBTQ person constantly questions whether and when they should come out to those around them.  Most people have numerous groups of people to come out to.  There are friends to consider, co-workers, fellow students, family members, relatives, friends, and acquaintances and within each group there are subgroups.  This can be overwhelming and stressful to think about.  As we discussed previously, the stress an LGBTQ person faces around coming out can lead to heavy use of alcohol or drugs and addiction.

A person’s identity as LGBTQ begins to form before the decision is made to come out or not.  The more developed someone is in their LGBTQ identity, the more likely they are to disclose themselves to others.  Simply stated, the more comfortable someone is with their authentic self, the easier it is for them to come out to others.

Once someone accepts themselves as LGBTQ, remaining in the closet forces them to live a double life, hiding who they truly are and how they feel from other people.  This secrecy is exhausting, stressful and lonely.  A life of concealment keeps one from truly connecting to others, because no one knows the real you.

Stress and Risks of Coming Out

Feelings of shame often keep the LGBTQ person from sharing their true selves. They often hear that they are bad, or evil or unworthy.  Fortunately, things are changing.  Over 53% of Americans support marriage equality.  But reading and hearing the daily news show that the acceptance is far from universal.

People may withhold the decision to come out to others because of the risk of rejection, fear of physical harm, discrimination, harassment, and a desire to protect loved ones from the stress of coming out.  It is not a coincidence that many of the LGBTQ clients struggling with addiction also struggle with some aspect of coming out.  Either they came out and faced one of the risks listed above, or they are frozen in fear that one of those risks might result if they were to tell others.  It is very common to hear about people struggling with addiction who have compartmentalized their life in an effort to hide certain aspects about themselves from others because of shame.

Some project their own anxiety and shame onto their loved ones as a justification for not coming out to those loved ones.   For example, my fear during my closeted years was always that others could not adjust to my uniqueness but really it was me who never gave myself a chance.  As a result I developed a false self to live up to the perceived expectations of my family and society so I would not hurt myself or let others down.  Yes there is a lot of risk associated with the very brave decision to come out but the other side has unlimited potential.  Giving yourself the opportunity to be your unique, honest, and authentic self is one of the most empowering experiences you can do in your life.  Coming out does not guarantee it but it provides the opportunity and there are people who are willing to help you reach that place of authenticity.

The Coming Out Process Never Ends

There is a myth about the coming out experience: that it is this milestone event and then after that the individual is in the clear.  However, this is not the case and the decision to come out is a lifelong, almost daily process that LGBTQ individuals are faced with.  Social contexts and an individual’s environment are constantly evolving and therefore decision whether or not to disclose one’s identity to others is constantly being made.

Even once one comes out to some people in a certain group, there is the stress of wondering who else in the group has been told.  For example, coming out to close coworkers can lead one to wondering who those coworkers have told.  There becomes an uneasy wondering of “do they know”.  Because a person’s sexuality is only part of who they are, it would seem forced and strange to start every conversation with “By the way, I am gay”.

Pride Month is a time to raise awareness of the issues those in the LGBT community have and reach out to others who feel alone.  Holding onto shame is a lonely place.  Healing occurs from hearing other people’s experiences. New Hope Recovery Center offers the New Hope With Pride Program for those struggling with any aspect of addiction and LGBTQ-related stressors.  For more information please visit our website New Hope Recovery Center, call us at 888-707-4673, or email us at info@new-hope-recovery.com.

Written By: New Hope Recovery Center

New Hope Recovery Center Lesbian CoupleAlcohol and drug abuse is a major concern for individuals who identify as lesbian. A report published by SAMHSA in 2011 found people who identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) are significantly more likely than the general population to use and abuse drugs or alcohol. This same study found lesbians are significantly more likely than heterosexual women to drink alcohol heavily. Another study published in 2004 from the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services noted the incidence of substance abuse among lesbians is far higher than their heterosexual peers.

Lesbians struggling with addiction face unique barriers that are critical to understand and address in treatment.   The following five themes highlight some of these key barriers:

(1)   Internalized Shame & Guilt: Addiction is a disease that coincides with tremendous shame and guilt. Many lesbians already struggle with internalized shame and guilt surrounding their sexuality, possibly having experienced rejection from family or friends, or simply as a result of living as a minority in today’s society rampant with hetero-sexist messages. Dealing with both their addiction and sexual orientation can feel like a double whammy, piling shame on top of shame.

(2)   Self-Medication: It is not uncommon for lesbians to use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate or numb themselves from feelings (such as inadequacy, shame, isolation, abandonment, sadness or anger) resulting from their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, this coping mechanism eventually backfires and the “solution” to the problem becomes worse than the problem itself. Drinking or using drugs to numb shame or other feelings may provide some temporary relief, but ultimately this coping strategy creates new problems and does nothing to resolve the feelings one tries to numb away.

(3)   Social Scene: The LGBT social scene is centralized in bars and clubs. Often, lesbians feel there is no way to be sober and remain social in the lesbian community. It is important to understand that the lesbian social scene provided in bars and clubs has specific meaning and importance. These places provide one of the only spaces where lesbians feel a sense of total acceptance, confident to fully be who they are, and allowed to safely and openly to show affection to loved ones.

(4)   “You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets”: Honesty is one of the key principles of recovery. Lesbians may feel unsafe or uncomfortable outing themselves in treatment centers or 12-step meetings. The inability to express one’s true self can inhibit an individual’s ability to fully recover in mind, body, and spirit. Addiction treatment programs specializing in LGBT-specific concerns can offer lesbians struggling with drug or alcohol addiction a safe and supportive space in which they can fully heal and recover.

(5)   Spirituality vs. Religion: There is a common misconception that the spiritual foundation of 12-step programs is religious. This misconception may create a significant barrier to recovery. The idea of being forced back into religion could instill major resistance in lesbians whose religious upbringings may have been filled with shame, guilt, fear and rejection. It is important that addiction treatment programs educate lesbians about the difference between spirituality and religion, and provide an open setting for lesbians to identify their own conception of spirituality and a loving and accepting higher power.

Treatment is about working with the whole person and New Hope Recovery Center embraces inclusion, acceptance, and understanding. NHRC creates a safe and self-affirming space for lesbians with addiction issues. Contact NHRC for information about our new program, New Hope with Pride, designed specifically for the LGBTQI person suffering from addiction to alcohol or drugs. Call New Hope Recovery Center at 773-883-3916 or email us at info@new-hope-recovery.com.

Written by: New Hope Recovery Center