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Substance use, mental health issues higher for lesbian, gay or bisexual adults

October 14, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Adults who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual have higher rates of substance use and mental illness than adults who identify as heterosexual but are also more likely to receive treatment, according to a report published this week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The report was based on data from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which found that 4.3% of the adult population (age 18 or over) identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (“sexual minority adults”). The survey used to compile the data did not include questions identifying transgender and questioning populations.

Substance abuse

Overall, past-year use of illicit drugs was found to be higher among sexual minor adults than those in the sexual majority, 39.1% compared to 17.1%. More specifically, the population was more likely to have used each of the following substances within the past year:

  • Cocaine (5.1% of sexual minority vs. 1.8% of sexual majority)
  • Heroin (0.9% vs. 0.3%)
  • Hallucinogens (5.0% vs. 1.6%)
  • Inhalants (3.7% vs. 0.3%)
  • Methamphetamine (2.3% vs. 0.9)

Lesbian, gay or bisexual adults were also more likely to seek treatment for substance use disorder, as 15.3% who required treatment within the past year received treatment at a specialty facility, compared to 10.6% of those in the sexual majority.

About 340,000 sexual minority adults received treatment for their abuse of illicit drugs and/or alcohol within the prior year, and 254,000 received treatment at a specialty facility.

Mental health disorders

Within the past year, a higher percentage of sexual minority adults experienced mental health disorders of any kind than sexual majority adults (37.1% vs. 17.1%), and rates for those who experienced serious mental illness were also higher (13.1% vs. 3.6%). Adults who have experienced mental illness and identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual also were more likely to receive treatment than those who identify with the sexual majority: 48.5% vs. 42.6%.

The full report is available for download on the SAMHSA website.