I've been meaning to put pen to paper about this topic for a while now. I spoke to a fellow from my recovery group and we discussed the evident correlation between mental illness, specifically addiction, and those who identify or are yet to come to terms with identification as LGBTQI+. We all have to start somewhere so for those of you who are not familiar with all of the terminology, LGBTQI+ is an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and other terms.
Addiction refers to a compulsive behaviour used as a method of counteracting physical or emotional pain that one is unable to control with common willpower and that can negatively impact their lives. For many, addiction starts off wonderfully. It is but a mere painkiller to take when things get too much and once the substance use is over, we can return to our normal lives. Anaesthesia never hurt anybody when it was necessary and administered in a healthy way. But over time, substance users (and by 'substance' I refer to any form of addictive 'thing' or behaviour whether that be narcotics or compulsive cleaning) become so reliant on their coping mechanism that without it they struggle to survive to the extent that they can become physiologically dependent on their addictive substance to the point of life and death. I personally don't believe it is much of a surprise that those identifying as LGBTQIA+ are at a far greater risk of substance misuse than heterosexual cisgender people ('cisgender' meaning those who identify as the gender and sex they were assigned at birth).
As I was speaking to this fellow in recovery from addiction about the link to queer people, I realised just how clear and simple it is and started to question why there wasn't more awareness and support, particularly for queer youth at such a high risk of mental illness. It doesn't surprise me that queer people need a further crutch to lean on that heterosexual cisgender people may not be able to relate to. We often face very personal and hurtful prejudices from those who love us the most who often don't realise the unhealthy narrative they are speaking from. The discrimination, hate crime and misunderstanding we have to deal with does not pair well with the lack of relatability and identification we see in our societies. It is rare that a human being questioning their sexual orientation, gender or queerness does so with the goal of being able to identify as LGBTQIA+ and be judged and misrepresented. Why are people still unsure as to how addiction became so rife in queer communities? We don't want to be judged. We want to feel accepted. We don't want to be oppressed. We want to do everything we planned to do as children when we were thought we were straight, before realising that our identity put social or biological obstacles in our path. So substance use is obviously going to be a worthy winner for the best relationship a queer person can enter into. The substance doesn't judge us, it doesn't discriminate. It is simply there to numb out to and dull down the trauma of who we are. Of course many queer people struggle with mental illness and furthermore, they seek anaesthesia that for many comes in the form of alcohol, narcotics, food, porn, media, exercise, cleaning, hoarding, codependency, sex, work and many other forms of compulsive coping mechanisms.
If you are questioning your identity or struggling with your emotional wellbeing, perhaps you are concerned that you're relying on something a little too much to get through each day, then check out the support services listed below and prioritise your emotional and physical health. I hope you found this article helpful.
The Mix (for under 25s) https://www.themix.org.uk/
NHS (Addiction) https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/addiction-what-is-it/
12 Step Addiction Recovery Fellowships:
Alcoholics Anonymous https://aa.org/
Narcotics Anonymous https://ukna.org/meetings/search
Overeaters Anonymous https://oa.org/
Co-Dependants Anonymous https://codauk.org/
Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous https://aba12steps.org/
Sex Addicts Anonymous https://saa-recovery.org/our-program/the-twelve-steps/
Gamblers Anonymous http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/
Workaholics Anonymous https://workaholics-anonymous.org/
Spenders Anonymous http://www.spenders.org/
Marshal, M.P., Friedman, M.S., Stall, R., & Thompson, A.L. (2009). Individual trajectories of substance use in lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and heterosexual youth. Addiction, 104, 974–981.
Zietsch, B.P., Verweij, K.J.H., Heath, A.C., Madden, P.A.F., Martin, N.G., Nelson, E.C., & Lynskey, M.T. (2012). Do shared etiological factors contribute to the relationship between sexual orientation and depression? Psychological Medicine, 42(3), 521–532.
Liu, R., & Mustanski, B. (2012). Suicidal Ideation and Self-Harm in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 42(3), 221–228.