Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
Why are lgbtq+ individuals at higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse?
LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and others) individuals are indeed at a higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse due to a variety of factors that often intersect and compound over time. These factors primarily relate to the stress and challenges associated with living as a marginalized group in many societies. Here are some of the main factors:
Minority Stress: This term refers to the chronic stress faced by individuals belonging to a stigmatized minority group. For LGBTQ+ individuals, this can stem from societal prejudice, discrimination, and violence related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Such stressors can contribute to increased substance use as a coping mechanism.
Stigma and Discrimination: Experiences of rejection, exclusion, and maltreatment can increase feelings of anxiety and depression, which are associated with higher substance use rates. This can occur in various settings, including workplaces, schools, and even within families and social networks.
Internalized Negative Self-Perceptions: LGBTQ+ individuals may internalize societal biases and develop negative self-perceptions about their identity, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem. These feelings can contribute to the misuse of substances as a form of self-medication.
Lack of Inclusive Healthcare: Many healthcare systems lack the resources or training to provide culturally competent care to LGBTQ+ individuals. This can make it difficult for these individuals to seek help or access effective treatment for substance use disorders.
Social Isolation: Feelings of isolation, which can be the result of rejection or non-acceptance by family, friends, or society, can increase the risk of substance use and misuse.
Intersectional Identity Stressors: LGBTQ+ individuals who also belong to other marginalized groups (like racial or ethnic minorities) may face additional stressors that can increase the risk of substance abuse.
Is substance abuse recovery a life long process?
Substance abuse recovery is often described as a lifelong process. This is due to the chronic nature of addiction, which is a brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. Like other chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease, addiction often requires long-term or repeated care to manage symptoms and prevent relapse.
Here are key reasons why recovery is often a lifelong process:
- Changes in Brain Function: Substance use can cause long-lasting changes in the brain that persist even after the substance is no longer used. These changes can lead to cravings or triggers for drug use, which can potentially lead to relapse.
- Behavioral Changes: Substance use often involves habits and behaviors that become deeply ingrained over time. Changing these behaviors and developing new, healthier habits can take time and ongoing effort.
- Coping Mechanisms: Many individuals use substances as a way to cope with stress, trauma, or other underlying issues. Recovery often involves learning new coping mechanisms and addressing these underlying issues, which can be a long-term process.
- Support Systems: Recovery often involves building or rebuilding supportive relationships and social networks, which can take time.
- Maintenance of Physical and Mental Health: Substance use can lead to a variety of physical and mental health issues. Managing these conditions and maintaining overall health can be an ongoing part of recovery.
- Relapse Prevention: Relapse rates for substance use disorders are similar to those of other chronic illnesses. Ongoing care, support, and strategies for managing cravings and triggers can help prevent relapse over the long term.
Can I go cold turkey to stop abusing opioids?
While going "cold turkey," or suddenly stopping the use of opioids, might seem like a fast way to begin recovery, it's generally not recommended due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms and potential health risks.
Opioid withdrawal can be intensely uncomfortable and, in some cases, hazardous. Symptoms can include severe cravings, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and involuntary leg movements. In severe cases, withdrawal can lead to serious dehydration or electrolyte imbalances.
Furthermore, abruptly stopping opioid use can significantly increase the risk of relapse. The discomfort of withdrawal symptoms may make it more difficult to stay abstinent, and an individual may be tempted to use again just to relieve these symptoms. If a person relapses and takes the same dose they were previously accustomed to, the risk of overdose is high because the body's tolerance to the substance has decreased.
For these reasons, opioid withdrawal should ideally be managed under the supervision of healthcare professionals. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which includes medications like methadone, buprenorphine (Suboxone), and naltrexone, can be used to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. These medications work by acting on the same brain receptors targeted by opioids, but they do so in a safer manner that helps to manage withdrawal and reduce the risk of relapse.
In addition to MAT, counseling and behavioral therapies are typically part of a comprehensive treatment program for opioid use disorder. These approaches can help individuals develop the skills and strategies needed to maintain recovery in the long term.