Font size Font size smaller Font size normal Font size bigger

Drugs and alcohol – sexual minorities & transgender people

Published 4 April 2007. Updated 15 August 2011.

Drug and alcohol use among non-heterosexuals, including homosexuals, bi-sexuals and people who do not wish to define their sexuality, and transgender people, follows a broadly similar pattern to that of the mainstream population. However, some distinguishing features deserve closer attention.

Learning to accept one’s own sexual orientation or gender identity can sometimes be a long and drawn-out process. Drugs and alcohol are often used to relieve the anxiety this causes. Those undergoing a gender reassignment process may feel the need to deny their experience and seek an escape through substance use.

Traditionally, the non-heterosexual community have lacked public places for socialising and meeting potential partners. Contacts are often sought in gay bars and pubs considered safe by the community. They offer a space where non-heterosexuals can be themselves and be accepted, freely, without the need to explain themselves. For many, they are also places where they can feel part of a majority and be “the norm”.

Drugs and alcohol can often be used to gain “Dutch courage” to approach someone new and seek contact with other people. However, people under the influence of drugs and alcohol are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviours, including casual relationships, and fail to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The positive attitude towards drugs and alcohol prevalent in some subcultures can encourage substance use. Many people seek peer approval through experimental or heavy substance use.

Not all people go on to develop a substance abuse problem and are able to maintain their usage at a moderate level. For some, however, spending time in bars can be become a lifestyle. People who find social contact challenging may also resort to drinking on their own. Substance use is an issue for people of all ages but treatment is often sought at a relatively late stage, when problems are already entrenched.

Many people who seek support from social and healthcare services are often fearful. Worried that they may encounter discriminatory practices or staff attitudes, many people from sexual minorities and transgender people who suffer from substance abuse fail to seek help. The fearful attitudes also extend to the prospect of interaction with staff and other patients in an in-patient setting.

Hilkka Lydén
Armi Kurvinen

Updated 15 August 2011:
Marita Karvinen
Seta – LGBT Rights in Finland

For further information

Gender Diversity & Intersex Centre of Expertise