Supporting LGBTQIA2S+ Individuals in the United States

The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is committed to providing assistance to LGBTQIA2S+ refugees who have experienced discrimination and persecution in their home countries. People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) often face social stigma, prejudice, and other difficulties that heterosexual individuals do not.

They are also more likely to be victims of harassment and violence. As a result of these and other stressors, sexual minorities are more prone to a variety of mental health issues. If you need help, you can use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) treatment locator or call 1-800-662-HELP (435). In recent years, many federally funded surveys have started to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in their data collections. Research conducted so far has revealed that sexual minorities have higher rates of substance abuse and substance use disorders (SUD) than heterosexual people. Therefore, it is not yet possible to determine long-term trends in substance use and the prevalence of SUD in LGBTQ populations.

LGBTQ people tend to start treatment with more severe SUD. Some common forms of treatment for SUD have been proven effective for gay or bisexual men, such as motivational interviewing, social support therapy, contingency management, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). For instance, gay and bisexual men and lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to experience frequent mental distress and depression than their heterosexual counterparts. Transgender children and adolescents have higher levels of depression, suicidal tendencies, self-harm, and eating disorders than their non-transgender peers.

Therefore, it is especially important for LGBT people being treated for SUD to be screened for other psychiatric problems (and vice versa) so that all identifiable conditions can be treated simultaneously. LGBTQ people are also at greater risk of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) due to both intravenous drug use and risky sexual behavior. HIV infection is particularly common among gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with men or MSM) and among transgender women who have sex with men. SUD treatment can also help prevent HIV transmission among people at high risk. For example, addiction treatment is associated not only with a reduction in drug use but also with less risky sexual behavior among MSM, and people with HIV report improvements in viral load. This page provides tools and resources to enhance the ability of social workers to support LGBTQIA2S+ individuals throughout their lives.

Social workers have a responsibility to promote policies, laws, and programs that affirm, support, and value LGBTQIA2S+ individuals, families, and communities.