Lesbians and Addiction

A recent study confirmed lesbians are more at risk for addictions than heterosexual women. Alcohol and drug abuse are significantly higher in the lesbian community than in the general population of their peers, according to a report published by SAMHSA, (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services). These results supported previous studies.

What are the main reasons that prevent lesbians from seeking the help and services that they need?  The following list gives several possible contributing factors.
•    Feeling guilt and shame:  Lesbians often feel guilt and shame from their sexuality struggles, rejection by many in society and other stresses felt by belonging to a minority.  Addiction often goes along with these same feelings.
•    Self-Medication:   It is common for people who are experiencing guilt and pain to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, to help cope with sadness and anger; this is especially true of lesbians.  Self-medication often becomes larger than the original problem, and only provides a temporary solution with no strategy for change.
•    Social scene:  Lesbians sometimes centralize their social activities in bars and clubs where there is a climate of social acceptance for being loaded.  Staying sober in this type of atmosphere can be very challenging to anyone.
•    “You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets”:  Lesbians can feel very uncomfortable and sometimes unsafe in regular group addiction support programs, where they may be inhibited from true expression.  Lesbians need to be able to interact in a supportive and friendly space.
•    Spirituality vs religion:  There is a difference between having spirituality and being religious.  The idea that 12-step programs are religious is a misconception.  Spirituality and the concept of accepting a higher power of our understanding can help people deal with their addictions. Religion can hinder recovery programs by producing feelings of shame caused by religious upbringing.

Understanding the unique problems facing lesbians who deal with addictions are important to successful treatment. Health professionals need to be educated and learn to assist the lesbian community in supportive and encouraging ways, so that they can fully recover and lead healthy and happy lives.


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