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Drug Addiction in the LGBTQ+ Community in Canada

Drug Addiction in the LGBTQ+ Community in Canada


Many factors damage and affecting today’s contemporary society. One such problem is an addiction, which cuts across drugs and alcohol, technological devices, gambling, sex, and eating. Addiction can be described as the tendency or the urge to do something difficult to control or stop. It is not a failure of morals or lack of willpower but a disease that deserves extensive treatment and care just like any other chronic disease. Herie and Skinner (2014) is the habit to give into the pleasure-seeking tendencies regardless of the harm which usually outweighs the useful ones. Addiction to drugs and alcohol affects various people regardless of race, ethnic background, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. For my assignment, I picked the LGBTQ+ group as the community to focus on because I have worked for a local center back at home and I noticed that many of the participants for this center. Furthermore, studies have shown that identify themselves with a particular gender orientation are usually more prone to abuse substances and be mentally ill as compared to heterosexuals (Scannapieco, Painter, & Blau, 2018). This paper discusses addiction to drugs and alcohol among the LGBTQ+ community and the organizations that deal with the issue of drug addiction in the group.

The LGBTQ+ Community, Statistics and Key Factors

In contemporary society and especially with digital technology and innovations moving at a breakneck pace, the world has witnessed so many discoveries and new things. One of these new aspects that have been brought to light now and are more accepted by people is different sexual orientations. The LGBTQ+ community is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender queer (and at times questioning), and others. The plus at the end stands for other sexual orientations such as Two-Spirit, asexual and pansexual. Initially, the world had not accepted the LGBTQ+ and as such most of those who identified as gay or lesbian, etc would hide as the ones who went public faced so much oppression, discrimination, and stigma from family, friends, and strangers. They were harmed physically and mentally across the world and especially in more backward cultures.  As conservative countries like India attempt to decriminalize homosexuality, other nations choose to impose laws that make it an offense (Herie & Skinner, 2014). In any case, society shunned and labeled them as social misfits as their orientation did not fit with the norm. Due to these oppressive and discriminatory practices from those close to people in the LGBTQ+, many individuals find themselves severing ties with family and friends, some lose jobs, do not get proper medical care and others are rendered homeless because of conservative homeowners (Kaliszewski & Ackermann, 2019). Due to the constant oppression, stigma, and discrimination, many individuals fall into prolonged periods of depression and other mental illnesses because of stress, social pressure, or guilt. As a reaction to these things, many people from the LGBTQ+ community run to drug and substance abuse for solace and short-term relief which usually ends up disrupting their lives, relationships, work, and finances.

Many scholars and researchers have studied the rate of addiction among the LGBTQ+ community. According to one such study done by the Canadian Mental Health Institution (n.d.), the abuse of alcohol and other drugs is 2 to 4 times higher among LGBTQ+ individuals than in heterosexual persons. Additionally, a study done in Toronto found that the rate of smoking among LGBTQ+ adults was higher (around 37%) as compared to other adults (17%) (Canadian Mental Health Institution, n.d.). Part of the factors that may contribute to these high numbers among queer people is that TV, social media, and people seem to glorify drinking and partying in gay bars. Hunt (2012) opines that though these places are meant to be safe places for LGBTQ+ individuals away from people’s judgment, these joints promote excessive drinking, smoking, and use of other substances, therefore contributing to the addiction seen in this community. However, even within the community, there are clear distinctions as it is seen that most gay and bisexual men prefer cocaine, meth, and prescription drugs while the rest are inclined to drinking and smoking. Other factors that encourage addiction among these individuals are discrimination, trauma, stress. The process of “coming out of the closet” also makes queer people run to drugs and other substances because of the uncertainty, guilt, stigma, loneliness, and confusion about their sexuality as they transition.  The Canadian Mental Health Association (n.d.) did a study that revealed that the hate crimes perpetrated because of sexual orientation differences had increased by a double from 2007 to 2009 and 20% of the participants of the study had been assaulted either sexually or physically because of been queer and 34% got harassed and verbally threatened. Another study also revealed that transgender men and women have a higher likelihood of getting addicted to substances as 42% of them used drugs as a reaction to family stigma and 26% of them did so because of harsh treatment from medical practitioners and homeowners (Lyons et al, 2015). The numbers prove the high probability of addiction in the LGBTQ+ community.

A common term used in-class readings and lectures is intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw. This is the framework that explores the social markers interactions like class, gender, age, race, sexual orientation, and gender which shape a person’s experience (Norris et al., 2007). It conceptualizes a group, or an individual or social issue as impacted by some discrimination or disadvantages, taking into consideration the overlapping identities to comprehend the complex bias they encounter. For instance, BIPOC youths who identify as queer experienced higher discrimination and stigmatization rates such as rejection and lack of support. Due to this intersectionality and other stressors, it is no wonder these individuals have a higher probability of abusing drugs.

Canadian Organizations that Respond to Addiction in the LGBTQ+ Community

Canadian Centre for Addiction (CCFA)

One famous organization that deals with the issue of addiction among the LGBTQ+ Community is the Canadian Centre for Addiction (CCFA) based in Port Hope and North York, Ontario. It is considered a top alcohol-rehab and drug-rehab in the city and the country because of its success rates. CCFA is among the few accredited private rehab centers by the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) and Accreditation Canada, hence the facility is very reliable (Canadian Centre for Addictions (2021). It is known for having the most sought-after professionals who ensure a patient’s full recovery. Armed with sophisticated amenities, techniques like CBT and DBT, and a skilled team, CCFA offers a client-centered holistic approach to rehabilitate individuals into pursuing a substance-free lifestyle (2019). Though on face value, one can think that their target audience is not the members of the LGBTQ+ community, they post well-researched blogs on their website that show the problems these individuals face and call for the society to build a conducive environment and rehabilitation centers that accommodate them. This way they contribute in a way to curbing the prevalence of addiction in the LGBTQ+ community.

Rainbow Services (LGBTQ)

This facility is intended for those individuals particularly in the LGBTQ+ community who are concerned about their drug and substance abuse. It is located primarily in Queen Street, Toronto but they have other facilities in other areas like Ontario that address the different drug abuse for both teens and adults from the LGBTQ+ community. The services of the institution are designed in a manner that meets the needs of these individuals whether they want to completely quit or just cut down on their substance use/abuse (Rainbow Services (LGBTQ, n.d.). They have extensive services that cater to queer persons suffering from substance abuse and mental problems. These are inclusive of both group and individual therapy, relapse prevention, psychiatric consultations, concurrent disorder programs, support groups, and education, leisure and nutrition, and awareness building for stress management (Rainbow Services (LGBTQ, n.d.). When a person visits the facility, they go through an assessment interview then later they get a first appointment which usually has a one-on-one meeting with a therapist for assessment of the issue and making decisions on the counseling options available – matters meant to help a person recover from drug use/abuse.

The Vancouver Addiction Matrix Program (VAMP)

Vancouver Addiction Matrix Program (VAMP) is another organization that responds to drug addiction among the LGBTQ+ community. It offers a 16-week outpatient alcohol and drug treatment program and targets adults of 18 years and older residing in Vancouver. VAMP offers treatment alongside individual counseling sessions. Co-ed streams are opened to all genders, there is a stream for gay, bisexual and queer men, and trans people are afforded both streams (Vancouver Addiction Matrix Program, n.d.). They have programs that prevent relapses by focusing on building recovery skills and they also have support education and aftercare groups for a client’s post-treatment (VAMP, n.d.).  The facility that offers their program is the Three Bridges Community Health Centre, located at Hornsby Street in Vancouver.

Organization to Examine – Vancouver Addiction Matrix Program (VAMP)

            I chose to assess the Vancouver Addiction Matrix Program (VAMP) because I felt they were offering good services to the LGBTQ+ community in terms of their recovery from substance addiction. They address addiction and substance use issues across all genders including heterosexual, gay, bisexual, queer, and transexual men. Though they cover a broad-spectrum population, there are gaps in their services. I feel that VAMP fails to narrow down specifically to the needs of the large portion of the LGBTQ+ community including lesbians and transexual women as their services are just restricted to the male side of this society. According to research, indeed a part of the spectrum is more likely to abuse substances and get addicted and as such, the institution should extend their services to lesbians and transexual women. VAMP also needs to recruit highly skilled professionals who can maintain confidentiality and can empathize with the individuals from the LGBTQ+ community, thus helping them feel less alienated and keep their sexual orientation from public scrutiny. The organization also uses only abstinence-based approaches to rehabilitate patients, but they could provide options so that one can choose if they want to completely quit or just reduce their substance use (Redmond, 2019; Parramore, 2020). Studies show that when patients cannot find a method, they prefer in their rehabilitation journey, they avoid the programs completely. Thus, according to Redmond (2019), VAMP can consider an inclusive and safe space for the entire spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community. The institution has partnered with Three Bridges Community Health Centre and the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council (MVAEC) to extend these services to the residents of Vancouver. The parent agency of VAMP is the Vancouver Coastal Health. The institution is rarely in the media but maybe they could use a few advertisements to reach more people. They are accessible through their toll-free number and the two streams which their clients can use and one can physically visit the Three Bridges Community Health Centre for physical services.


            Addiction to drugs and substances is a huge problem in the world and affects everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or religion. In the LGBTQ+ community, studies have shown that individuals have a higher prevalence of using drugs because of the oppression, stigmatization, discrimination, and rejection that they face. Hence, the numbers of those addicted to drugs are higher as compared to heterosexual persons. However, rehabilitation centers like The Vancouver Addiction Matrix Program (VAMP) and Rainbow Services (LGBTQ) help to provide programs and services for the community in safe spaces, hence reducing the rate of addiction among these individuals.

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