As we celebrate pride month and the strides made toward gender equity in many aspects of life, it’s important to remember that significant challenges—both seen and unseen—remain. One of those challenges is substance use disorders (SUDs) in LGBTQ+ populations.
The National LGBT Health Education Center reports the LGBTQ+ population is disproportionately affected by SUDs. A 2015 study found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people across all age brackets were significantly more likely to have misused prescription pain relievers in the past year compared to heterosexual adults and had almost three times greater risk of opioid use disorder.
More recently, a 2019 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national survey found that about half of LGBTQ+ adults with an SUD struggled with illicit drugs and 3 in 5 struggled with alcohol use. The Center for American Progress also finds that LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk for cancer and mental illnesses, and they are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, and engage in other risky behaviors compared to the heterosexual population.
The SUD challenge in the LGBTQ+ community is related in part to the broader issue of access to equitable, quality healthcare. Due to a lack of providers and the stigma associated with accessing addiction treatment in person, 90% of people don’t get access to the care they need. However, for the LGBTQ+ population, the challenges can run even deeper.
In the recent Employee Benefit News Web Seminar Substance use disorder - Prevention and treatment in the workplace, Quit Genius Medical Director Justin Yang, M.D., discussed the three major contributors to SUDs: care access (including stigma), care quality, and care equity. Dr. Yang said solving these issues means getting employees, including LGBTQ+ employees, the help they need in a safe, confidential, and culturally sensitive manner.
“On top of the stigma associated with seeking treatment for an SUD, the LGBTQ+ population often deals with even higher levels of stigma, including social stigma, discrimination, harassment, and other stressors not experienced by people who identify as heterosexual. It’s important for employers and health plans to recognize the impact these issues can have and to connect with virtual substance use treatment solutions such as Quit Genius that are inclusive and deal with diverse populations.”
Dr. Yang added that employers and health plans should consider addiction treatment for gender and sexual minorities as an extension of their own diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Quit Genius, for example, provides culturally competent coaches and counselors, a diverse staff, and diversity and gender training for its employees.
"We provide a safe environment with culturally competent providers, coaches and counselors. We embrace a care culture that understands the needs of different populations and meets them where they are."
In terms of substance use treatment approaches, combining cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has proven effective in addressing SUDs—a framework that the National LGBT Health Education Center believes can be successfully applied to the LGBTQ+ population. The addition of virtual capabilities to this framework enhances access and adds privacy to destigmatize and personalize SUD treatment.
Quit Genius. The world's first digital clinic delivering a comprehensive Medication-Assisted Treatment program for multiple addictions. To learn more about how your workplace benefits or health plan team can best support employees and members, contact a solutions expert today.
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