By Anne Schmidt, Youth Services Case Management Supervisor
All teens to one degree or another are at a certain risk for experimenting with substances such as alcohol, illegal drugs or using prescription drugs improperly. According to the Partnership for Drug- Free Kids, by 12th grade more than three-quarters of teens have tried alcohol, half of them have used marijuana, and 21% have abused prescription medications. While all teens are at a certain risk for drug and alcohol abuse, among LBGT teens those risks are increased.
Some people might wonder why LGBT teens are at a greater risk for substance abuse. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids identifying as LGBT does not cause substance abuse, rather these teens may have a weaker support system and experience greater pressure to use drugs and alcohol. There are certain risk factors that may increase the chances that a teen may experiment with drugs and alcohol.
Here are some risk factors that may make LBGT youth more at risk than others: bullying and harassment at school, being rejected by their families who do not support their lifestyle, being influenced by their peers is another factor that puts LGBT teens at risk; this is especially true if their friends also use drugs and alcohol.
There are some ways that communities and families can help support LGBT teens and decrease their risk for substance abuse. One way to do this is to increase family support. This could be as simple as talking openly about a teen’s LGBT identity, allowing the teen to bring their LGBT friends to family events, attending LGBT events as a family and accepting a teen who may be dressing in a way that is not associated with their gender. Another important thing that all teens need is supportive and caring adults. These supportive adults are especially important at schools. This is because schools are where LGBT teens are most likely to experience bullying and harassment. Teens who know they can rely on their teachers to support them and who feel safe at school are less likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with their problems.
The more supported any teen feels, the less likely they are to turn to drugs and alcohol to escape. It’s important to have an open dialogue with your teens about the challenges they are facing in their lives. If you have an LGBT teen in your family and are looking for resources for helping them here is a good resource: www.familyproject.sfsu.edu. There are several other helpful resources and articles online for dealing with both teen substance abuse and LGBT youth. This website has lots of information about keeping your kids drug-free www.drugfree.org.
Salt Lake County Youth Services offers substance abuse group for teens that may be using drugs or alcohol to cope. We also have trained therapists who work with youth who identify as LGBT and are looking for someone to talk to. Please see our website for more information www.youth.slco.org or call 385-468-4500.