Skip to content Skip to navigation

The Pitiful State of LGBT Substance Abuse Treatment Availability

February 29, 2012
by Michael Shelton
| Reprints
Recent studies indicate we can't get much worse.

It’s been more than a decade since the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released “A Provider’s Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Individuals,” which recommended, “A commitment should be made at every level of the program, from the board of directors to the direct line staff, to design and deliver services in a manner sensitive to the needs of LGBT individuals” (p. 123).[i]   A 2009 study offers evidence as to the continued importance of this recommendation: 180 lesbian, gay, and bisexual participants were asked about their past substance abuse treatment experiences (both inpatient and outpatient), including overall satisfaction with their experiences, ability to be open about their sexuality in the program, and the amount of support they received from staff.   The author concluded that “LGBT specialized treatment was the only program treatment factor that was a statistically significant predictor of current abstinence” (p. 190).[ii]

How available is specialized treatment for LGBTs?  A 2007 study presents a chilling snapshot. The researchers made telephone contact with 854 substance abuse treatment agencies promoting themselves as having specialized programs for LGBTs in the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services.  Each facility was presented with the same question: ““Hi, I am calling because your agency is listed in the SAMHSA directory as one that provides special programs or groups for gays and lesbians, and I am interested specifically in what those programs are. Could you tell me more about them?” (p. 166)[iii]

The results?

·      Although all 854 agencies had indicated they provided LGBT-specific services, at the time of the phone contact 605 (70.8%) acknowledged no specialized programs existed.

·      Sixteen of the agencies (1.9%) reported they had offered those services in the past but no longer did so.

·      79 (9.3%) programs described themselves as “non-discriminating” (sample response: “We offer the same thing we offer straight people. . . we don’t discriminate.”) and 34 (4%) as “accepting” (sample response: “We don’t have special services for gays and lesbians, we just allow them in our groups.”).

·      Only 62 (7.3%) of agencies indicated specialized LGBT programming and almost half were in New York and California.