Substance Use

There are few areas of public health for Wisconsin LGBT communities that are more complex or prompt such dramatic feelings as substance use and abuse. Surveys indicate that teens and adults in Wisconsin in general have very high rates of alcohol use and abuse in contrast to the rest of the United States.

Because the rates of alcohol use in Wisconsin are so high, LGBT people do not especially stand out from that norm. It would be almost impossible to have higher rates than the state does overall. But still, among LGBT teens in Wisconsin, there is an earlier onset of alcohol use and a greater likelihood of binge drinking. Again among teens in Wisconsin, LGBT youth report significantly higher rates of use of tobacco, cocaine, inhalants, ecstasy, and heroin.

For some LGBT people, addressing their use of substances is challenged by a limited number of culturally competent AODA providers and by a lack of insurance coverage for such services. For others, substance use is viewed as a rite of passage, a factor associated with community membership, or a method of coping with the stressors associated with homophobia. It seems that confronting their substance use and abuse feels like a personal attack for some LGBT people.

In the US bars and clubs have played a vital part in the development of LGBT communities. Even today, especially in smaller and less developed communities, the importance of bars to the LGBT community cannot be overstated. This greatly complicates the mechanisms to address substance use.

For adults in Wisconsin, substance abuse prevention is likely currently best served by providing safe zones or healthy venues where alcohol and other drug use is not encouraged. Information about tobacco and other drug use, corporate targeting of LGBT people, and the lack of healthy venues also hold some promise for prevention and responsible use.

For LGBT youth, there are a few evidence-based approaches to prevent alcohol abuse and tobacco use. Clear information, refusal skills, peer supports, and fun alternatives all play a part in eliminating the dangerous health disparities in substance use that limit the length and quality of our lives.

Learn more about our programs related to substance abuse: