We have all heard how the opioid epidemic and other drug crises are ravaging communities. What you don’t hear about is how specifically the LGBTQ+ community is being impacted. For example, how meth, alcohol or marijuana uniquely impacts gay men, lesbians or African-American men who have sex with men (MSM), respectively. Unfortunately, our diverse community is uniquely linked to addictive behavior, or what I like to call “out-of-control behavior” associated with alcohol or other drugs.
But, while there is little argument the stressors associated with being queer might make us more susceptible, that doesn’t mean misusing alcohol or other drugs is part of the fabric of the community, or that addiction is inevitable. In fact, I have assisted many of my LGBTQ+ clients with creating new and useful life strategies to help manage stressors that occur in their everyday LGBTQ+ lives.
This blog will examine five essential strategies my LGBTQ+ clients have found useful to avoid out-of-control addictive behaviors.
1. Building the right support system.
Surrounding yourself with trusted friends, family, or extended family is critical to navigating an LGBTQ+ identity, especially if you’re still struggling with your true identity or considering “coming out.” Your support system should not only build you up, it should act as a “validating source,” a sort of “moral compass” if you will. This support system will assist with questions such as: When I should come out? Where should I be open about my identity/gender expression? Would I be in danger letting people know my authentic self? In addition, a good support system increases positive coping skills, self-esteem and self-confidence.
2. Developing one's (unique) coping skills.
Coping skills are a critical component to any healthy lifestyle, and most especially for us who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. I’m talking about skills as simple as listening to your favorite Pop Diva as a stress reliever, taking on a small home improvement project to have a sense of accomplishment or feeling good about yourself, or simply making that awesome Snapchat post that gets, like, a gazillion likes! These are more than just ways of dealing with more intense emotions such as anger or sadness; these will help other less talked about intense emotions such as loneliness and isolation. For example, maybe consider more mindfulness activities, such as taking a yoga or dance class. The important thing is learning to process more intense emotion and modifying the behavior accordingly.
3. Setting boundaries. Then enforcing them.
We can’t always cut negative people out of our lives (our more conservative family members, our overly dependent mothers, etc.), but setting firm boundaries and enforcing them can have a big impact. Friends and family who don’t support us (see strategy 1) shouldn’t necessarily be “cut off” from our lives. What we can learn to do is protect ourselves by setting up and enforcing appropriate boundaries. For example, do not tolerate homophobic or transphobic language; ensure those in our home respect us with words and behavior; and limit contact with unsupportive family members. Appropriate boundaries assist us in finding our voice to self-advocate for safe and non-hostile environments.
4. Practicing self-care every day.
Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.