More ‘inclusive’ health services needed for LGB people with substance addiction

Publish Date: 06/05/2014

Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people are often unable to get the right support for substance use as health services are not set up to meet their specific needs. A five-year study into drug and alcohol use among LGB people in England found they are seven times more likely to take illegal drugs compared to the general population, and twice as likely to binge drink. 

Research carried out by The Lesbian & Gay Foundation (The LGF) in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) found there were significant drug and alcohol problems in the community, with between a quarter and a fifth of the study’s participants indicating substance dependency. 

Many LGB people interviewed felt like an ‘outsider’ because of their sexual orientation when accessing support services. They weren’t able to be open about their lifestyle and reasons behind their substance use, or were afraid to come out to heterosexual service workers and fellow service users. Drug and alcohol services often failed to address complex needs, such as mental health issues, alongside substance dependency.
 
Heather Williams, Policy & Research Manager from The LGF, said: “Drug and alcohol use is a major public health issue, and this study shows that LGB people are disproportionately affected. They are more likely to drink and take drugs, and then continue this into later life. They are more likely to be dependent on these substances but are unable to get the support they need. Those who plan and deliver health services must ensure that these services are inclusive of LGB people, in order to tackle this problem.” 
 
One of the volunteers for the study, Susie, a lesbian in her late 20s, felt she had to hide her sexuality to other people in her recovery support group because other women would talk about their husbands or children, and she didn’t know if there were any other people in the same position as her. She lacked the confidence to come out as she was unsure how supportive her friends and service workers would be. 
 
In another case, David, a bisexual man in his 50s who sought help for methamphetamine and heroin dependencies was referred to a treatment agency by his GP. He felt that too many constraints, such as regular drugs testing, interfered with his work. Ultimately, David felt the service wasn’t used to dealing with people like him – someone who can manage to hold down a job and a family life. Drug and alcohol services often don’t address ‘high-functioning’ users, who may be more common in the LGB community.
 
Jez Buffin, Principle Lecture in the School of Social Work at UCLan, said: “This research has highlighted a number of significant differences between patterns of substance use among LGB and heterosexual people, and addresses what will be a costly problem in the future – both in terms of public spending and health.”
  
The project team published recommendations for commissioners, policy makers, GPs, drug and alcohol service providers, researchers, the voluntary and community sector to address the problematic substance use of LGB people. The recommendations call for sexual orientation monitoring of patients and clients in order to understand the experiences of LGB people; the use of this study’s evidence in designing and delivering health services; and recognition in the value of the voluntary and community sector offering complementary LGB-specific services, such as peer support groups and counselling.
 
The LGF and UCLan’s national ‘Part of the Picture’ project took a snapshot of alcohol and drug use in the LGB community in England over a five-year period and have just launched their final reports, which demonstrate the current evidence on LGB people’s substance use. The full reports are available at: www.lgf.org.uk/potp 

For more information on this report, please email: research@lgf.org.uk