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Guest Opinion: Substance use an issue among LGBTQs

by M.K. Leach

M.K. Leach. Photo: Courtesy M.K. Leach
M.K. Leach. Photo: Courtesy M.K. Leach  

COVID-19 has impacted California in many ways, from causing increased job loss to deaths to forcing the closure of countless businesses to increased substance use within many demographics. For example, members of the LGBTQ community face additional challenges, including increased stress from social prejudice, discriminatory laws, and family rejection. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, members of the LGBTQ community face a greater risk of harassment and violence. Other stressors like the pandemic, job loss, and financial difficulty increase the risk for various behavioral health issues, such as drug or alcohol addiction.

Overall, boredom, isolation, and loneliness have been experienced by many Americans amid the pandemic, not only the LGBTQ community, causing numerous Californians to increase alcohol and drug consumption in an effort to cope. According to research, the coronavirus disease caused an insurmountable psychosocial impact on the whole of mankind. Marginalized communities like those with substance use disorders are particularly vulnerable to contracting the infection and also likely to suffer from a greater psychosocial burden.

Among the LGBTQ community, one study discovered that one-third of men who have sex with men reported their substance use or binge drinking had increased during the COVID-19 lockdown. In another study published by the University of Maryland, 32% of LGBTQ students were drinking more since the outbreak, and 22% reported more recreational cannabis use. In addition, 65% met the clinical criteria for moderate or severe psychological distress, 40% often felt very isolated from others, while 26% received no social or emotional support.

Drinking and drug use increased among the general population during the pandemic. The opioid epidemic, for example, collided with the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in more opioid-related overdoses and deaths. According to research, the opioid epidemic has been complicated by the increasing use of methamphetamine in combination with opioids. The emergence of the pandemic and disruptions in health care and social safety nets, combined with social and economic stressors, added fuel to the opioid epidemic. In 2018, for example, an estimated 45% of drug overdose deaths in California involved opioids. Among opioid-involved deaths, the largest increase involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Since 2018 the number of fatal and non-fatal opioid overdose deaths has been increasing. (The San Francisco Examiner recently reported that fatal overdose deaths in the city in January increased by more than 60% (to 61) and that 2020 closed with a historic high of 699 overdose deaths.)

The pandemic and excessive government intervention into the lives of everyday Californians added more problems to the existing issues with drug and alcohol addiction. Within California, alcohol use disorder was more prevalent than other types of drug addiction. Roughly 6% of California residents reported meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence, compared to 3% for illicit drugs. Drug addiction was more prevalent among young adults aged 18 to 25, occurring at nearly twice the state average rate. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of young adults between 18 and 24 said they had considered suicide in the past 30 days during COVID-19.

In California, there have been over 55,000 deaths connected to COVID-19 and over 3.5 million cases. The pandemic and lockdown rules have drastically changed people's lives in California. By the end of 2020, the pandemic eviscerated roughly 1.6 million jobs in the state and slashed the value of business properties by more than 30%. The added stress, job loss, and ongoing restrictions have impacted every demographic in California, and drug and alcohol abuse has become an unhealthy way to cope with these problems. There are concerns that drug addictions will likely gain a stronger hold due to COVID-19, and it will be difficult to predict the fallout when things go back to normal.

It is important to know that waiting too long to get help could be very costly. There is a false ideology that someone needs to hit rock bottom before they can get help. Unfortunately for many, hitting these depths may be something that you cannot come back from. Intervention from loved ones or professionals may be required to get someone to confront their addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, it is important to reach out for help. There are many support groups and addiction services available in California. For a complete listing of these services, you can utilize websites like https://www.findtreatment.gov/ or https://www.addicted.org/

Michael Leach, a proud supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, has spent most of his career as a health care professional specializing in substance use disorder and addiction recovery. He is a regular contributor to the health care website https://www.addicted.org/ and a certified clinical medical assistant.

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