When teenagers abuse substances, the reasons are often different from the average adult. Their lives are in a greater state of flux, making them more susceptible to making poor decisions. They are also typically more vulnerable, needing more support and guidance than adults.
When their needs are not met, they can turn to methods of escapism including drug and alcohol abuse. On top of the standard teenage difficulties, LGBTQA teens must deal with a significant amount of extra hardship including rejection, abuse, and stigmatization. Here are a few of the top reasons LGBTQA teens may become addicts.
1. Rejection from Family
In the modern wave of acceptance and visibility, more kids are finding the courage to admit to the world that they are part of the LGBTQA community. Unfortunately, a number of parents have not caught up with this modernization and are responding in detrimental ways. Some parents will simply patronize their children, saying they don’t know what they’re talking about and that they will settle down with a nice person of the opposite sex and be happy.
This infantilizing of teens is frustrating at best and mentally harmful at worst. Teens, though they may seem old enough to stand on their own, still very much need the love, acceptance, and support of their parents. Some parents will go as far as to evict their child from their home, acting as though their child never existed. This is where substance abuse becomes even more likely to occur.
2. Homelessness by Choice or Force
When parents reject their child for being born differently, they often end up out on the streets. Though shelters do exist, they are often overcrowded and never a permanent solution. The combination of parental rejection, conditional love, and a physically difficult situation, substance abuse seems a very logical result.
This situation causes lowered self-worth, depression, and overall, the desire to forget what is going on in their lives. Substances can, for a short while, create a way to escape. The longer the teen is left on the streets with no love or support, the more likely they are to become addicted to a substance available to them. Occasionally, the pressure of a negative response from family can cause the teen to flee. When parents express disappointment or distress over their child’s revelation, the child begins to feel angry, guilty, or both.
They are angry because their parents’ love is conditional, and they’re guilty by simply existing and having caused their loved ones pain. This is enough to want to run away, resulting in the same homelessness and the same risk of addiction.
3. Social Consequences
Even when the family is supportive and accepting of the teen, the vast majority of American society has a negative view of the LGBTQA community. Teens within the community experience wrath, judgment, disapproval, and derision from complete strangers, making them feel unsafe and unwanted in their own hometowns. Even with familial support, social rejection can have a similar negative impact, causing the desire to escape from the situation.
Furthermore, with social and familial rejection being so rampant, the LGBTQA community has actually begun to incorporate substance abuse into their social spheres. When a large group of people experience similar rejection and band together in their desire to escape, drug use is often the outlet of choice. When the teen goes to seek social inclusion and safety, they are then exposed to substance abuse.
The only way to truly eradicate drug abuse among the LGBTQA community is to alter societal responses. While we are working slowly to do this, it is not an immediate solution. If you know an LGBTQA teen whose parents may be less than accepting, the best thing you can do is step in as a role model and support system for that teen.
A parent figure is one of the most important things in a teen’s life, and when the biological parents are not stepping up, the task may fall on others. Let the teen know you are there to listen, not to judge. An at-risk teen does not need a lecture. They need acceptance.
Jennifer McGregor has wanted to be a doctor since she was little. Now, as a pre-med student, she’s well on her way to achieving that dream. She helped create PublicHealthLibrary.org with a friend as part of a class project. With it, she hopes to provide access to trustworthy health and medical resources. When Jennifer isn’t working on the site, you can usually find her hitting the books in the campus library or spending some downtime with her dog at the local park.