GLBT Youth and Substance Abuse: Seeking Intersection of Support


The taboo regarding substance abuse and addiction are lessening thanks to the media and shows like Addicted, Intervention, and even Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab; bringing the reality of this disease mainstream. This has been a conversation starter for people, and has opened society’s eyes to the many faces of addiction.

While many gains are being made in understanding the disease of Addiction, much still needs to be done to mainstream the understanding of how substance abuse impacts various cultures in different ways.  Through my work, I often hear stories of teens who are questioning their sexuality who, unable to reach out to GLBTQ adults or mentors, reach for substances instead as they are not sure how to navigate their first sexual encounters and are unsure of how the revealing their orientation will be received.  Not only can substances hinder these experiences, the heightened risk for physical and sexual abuse that accompanies chemical use cannot be ignored.

A study by Dr. Michael P. Marshal of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center revealed that GLBT teens are 190 percent more likely to use drugs and alcohol than are heterosexual teens, and that the usage rate is even higher among certain subgroups. For example, Marshal’s study, which was published in the April 2008 edition of the journal Addiction, documented that the prevalence of drug or alcohol use among bisexual youth is 340 percent greater than the rate among straight teens. Among lesbian youth, the number rises to 400 percent (McBride, 2011).

While becoming more accepted in mainstream society, there is still a stigma attached to being chemically dependent.  Being a member of the GLBT community, we are also aware of the attitudes that are bestowed upon us.  There are a number of resources for those who are addicted, and there are a number of supports to the gay community, but there are not enough resources to adequately meet the needs when these two issues are combined.

In the community currently, there is a significant number of us who abuse substances or who are chemically addicted. Moreover, for both youth and adults who do not live in the Twin Cities, there is another hurdle to overcome, which is a furthered lack of resources.  Regardless of location, it is vital that we are able to lean upon one another to get the support that we need.

This is not just a call to support queer and questioning youth to help guide them in healthy ways, this is a call to put pride into ourselves and our community and to become healthier overall so that we might have a chance to demonstrate to those who are coming out and joining us–regardless of age–can be mentored and supported without resorting to the use of chemicals to navigate all of the important “firsts” that are part of our lives.

Resources for GLBT Substance Abuse:

1.)Element Mental Health Services: Element’s chemical dependency currently is running a GLBT-specific primary outpatient group and an outpatient group for the general public. Both groups currently have openings and are taking referrals and are Rule 31 licensed and a Minnesota provider. Element also takes most insurances and is able to work with the ones not currently contracted with to get funding.

Element Mental Health Services
1204 7th Street South, Ste. 105, Saint Cloud, MN 56301
(320) 257-6020

2.)   AA Intergroup – Minneapolis: Access to all Alcoholics Anonymous groups including GLBT specific groups.

Alcoholics Anonymous Intergroup – Minneapolis
(952) 922-0880

3.) AA Intergroup – Saint Paul: Access to all Alcoholics Anonymous groups including GLBT specific groups.

Alcoholics Anonymous Intergroup – St. Paul and Surrounding Suburbs
(651) 227-5502

4.) Avenues for Homeless Youth – Minneapolis: Provides safe and nurturing emergency shelter, short term housing and support services for homeless youth. Coordinates the GLBT Host Home Program – has a Chemical Dependency element for youth.

Avenues for Homeless Youth
(612) 522-1690

5.) PRIDE Institute: PRIDE Institute is committed to providing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people a road to recovery through evidence-based substance abuse, sexual health, and mental health treatment.

PRIDE Institute
14400 Martin Dr, Eden Prairie, MN 55344

Tamarah L. Gehlen MA LAMFT LADC CFLE CCTP is the Program Director for WINGS treatment center in Litchfield, Minnesota, and specializes in working with addicted teens and their families as well as individuals.  She is the editor for the LGBT Therapist Group E Newsletter, and provides lectures and training throughout the state of Minnesota on various topics.  Tamarah can be reached at [email protected] or on the web at

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