Being LGBTQ does not cause substance abuse. Rather, specific differences — mostly consequences of prejudice — weaken LGBTQ adolescents’ support systems and increase the pressure for them to use drugs and alcohol. Understanding these differences is crucial for helping LGBTQ teens grow up healthy, happy and substance-free.
More and more LGBTQ teens are growing up in families and communities that celebrate their sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. Sadly, it’s still common for LGBTQ teens to be rejected by their families, harassed by their peers, and demeaned in the media. When a person experiences hardship because of a socially stigmatized identity like being LGBTQ, psychologists call it “minority stress.”22 Direct harassment or abuse has the most obvious effect on substance use, but experiences like overhearing slurs at school or seeing negative stereotypes on TV can also have an impact. Indeed, 92 percent of LGBTQ Youth Survey participants reported hearing negative messages about being LGBTQ. Most LGBTQ teens experience some level of minority stress, even if their family and friends are supportive — though that support makes a tremendous difference.
(Source: Preventing Substance Abuse Among LGBTQ Teens; Human Rights Campaign and Partnership for Drug Free Kids)