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Pride Month: SUD Treatment for LGBTQIA+ Individuals

A Q&A with Nzinga Lawrence

Each year in June, LGBTQIA+ communities and their allies celebrate Pride Month with social gatherings, parades, festivals, art events, educational sessions, and more. Aside from existing as a time for celebration, Pride Month also provides a crucial platform to peacefully protest injustice, raise awareness of issues facing LGBTQIA+ communities, and advocate for equal rights.

When it comes to substance use and co-occurring disorders, research indicates that individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ tend to experience higher rates of substance use than the overall population. Data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) breaks down the numbers as follows:

  • Marijuana Use — Nearly 40% of LGBTQIA+ adults over 18 reported past year marijuana use, compared to just over 16% of the overall adult population.
  • Opioid Use — Roughly 9% of LGBTQIA+ adults over 18 reported misusing opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) compared to 3.8% of the overall population
  • Alcohol Use — Roughly 12.4% of LGBTQIA+ adults over 18 report an alcohol use disorder, compared to 10.1% in the general population.

(Source: https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/substance-use-suds-in-lgbtq-populations)

SUD Prevalence in LGBTQ+ Populations

Individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ often experience higher rates of discrimination, violence, harassment, social stigma, and ostracism. These additional daily stressors can contribute greatly to higher instances of substance use and co-occurring disorders, including depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorders.

An evidence-based, person-centered addiction treatment model that is trauma-informed, culturally-responsive, and gender-responsive is an essential component of effective SUD treatment for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Our organization is proud to provide exactly this type of care to the 15,000+ individuals who choose Gaudenzia as their provider of choice each year.

We are also incredibly proud of the long-standing good rapport that RAP, Inc. — our Washington, D.C. affiliate program — has with LGBTQIA+ clients who have sought care and consistently found a safe space at RAP. We spoke with RAP, Inc. Admissions Director Nzinga Lawrence about SUD Treatment for LBGTQ+ populations.

Team Member Spotlight: Nzinga Lawrence

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Nzinga grew up in Washington, D.C. and attended D.C. Public Schools before graduating from Trinity University with a BA in Psychology, and Howard University with a MEd in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Nzinga has extensive experience in addiction treatment, multicultural counseling, trauma-focused treatment, motivational interviewing, empowerment, and problem gambling.

We’re so grateful to Nzinga for taking the time to answer our questions about SUD treatment for LGBTQIA+ populations. In addition to a strong rapport with LGBTQIA+ clients at RAP, Nzinga identifies as bisexual and queer. Keep reading to learn how RAP, Inc. approaches providing inclusive, trauma-informed, culturally-responsive, and gender-responsive SUD treatment to all its clients.

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How Does RAP and its Programs Help Create a Safe Environment for LGBTQIA+ Clients?

NL: We maintain and train staff on trauma-informed care and programming. RAP, Inc. has a long relationship with LGBTQIA+ clients in the D.C. area that includes our past programming with HOPWA and relationships with agencies like HIPS. We continue to have trainings and psychoeducational sessions with the residents and staff regarding diversity and inclusivity.

What Are Some of the Biggest Barriers to Treatment Access for LGBTQIA+ Populations?

NL: The biggest barriers to treatment access for LGBTQIA+ populations continue to be access to residential care and continued treatment. There are a limited number of programs that may or may not have specific rooms/dorms for LGBTQIA+ clients.

What is Something You Would Want All Behavioral Health Professionals to Understand About Working with LGBTQIA+ Clients?

NL: Acceptance and support go a long way. Education is helpful, but basic respect and care would help many LGBTQIA+ clients feel welcomed and worthy.

Are There Any Significant Trends to the Challenges LGBTQIA+ Clients Come in with?

NL: A lack of support. Not knowing there is a LGBTQIA+ community within many self-help support groups. Also, trauma, both childhood and adult.

What Changes Would You Like to See in the Behavioral Healthcare Field as it Pertains to LGBTQIA+ Populations?

NL: More trainings with actual LGBTQIA+ members who can express their experiences and challenges. Openness to allowing others to live their lives, while doing our jobs.

Creating a Diverse, Inclusive Workplace and Treatment Environment

Gaudenzia is proud to be an equal opportunity employer and will never practice or tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Since its founding, our organization has worked to foster an inclusive, diverse workplace, and to create a treatment environment where our clients and employees always feel safe and comfortable to express their authentic selves.

Those interested can learn about SAMHSA’s LGBTQIA+ programs and initiatives here, or visit GLADD online for more resources and ways you can show your support for LGBTQIA+ individuals year-round.

From all of us here at Gaudenzia, HAPPY PRIDE MONTH!

If you or someone you love needs help with substance use and co-occurring disorders, call Gaudenzia’s Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) today.

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