Drug abuse refers to the non-medical use of drugs; both drugs that have and those that do not have generally accepted medical value. Almost all drugs that are subject to abuse have central nervous system (CNS) effects, producing changes in mood, levels of awareness or perceptions and sensations. Among drugs that are abused, some appear to be more likely to lead to uncontrolled use than others, suggesting a possible hierarchy of drugs that are likely to be abused.
Studies indicate that, when compared with the mainstream (heterosexual) population, LGBT people are more likely to use drugs, have higher rates of substance abuse, and are more likely to continue drug abuse into later life. Although LGBT people have been shown to use all types of drugs, certain drugs appear to be more popular in the LGBT community than in the mainstream community.
Gay men, for example, are significantly more likely to have used marijuana, stimulants, sedatives, cocaine, and party drugs (ecstasy, ketamine, and GHB) than men in the general population. The use of crystal methamphetamine in gay and bisexual men has increased dramatically in recent years.
Few studies have looked at drug use in the lesbian community and there is subsequently little information on this population. What little information there is, however, suggests that drug abuse in lesbians occurs at higher rates than heterosexual women and could equal the rates of occurrence in gay men.
Stimulants most commonly used in the LGBT community include cocaine, crack, and crystal methamphetamine. The physiological effect of cocaine is similar to crack and crystal meth, but cocaine metabolizes very rapidly and thus has a shorter duration of approximately 20-80 minutes compared to the 4-12 hour duration of crack and crystal meth. Desired effects of stimulants include anorectic effects, increased alertness, mood elevation, and increased sexual arousal.
Depressants frequently abused by LGBT people include xanax, valium, and alcohol. At low doses, depressant drugs relieve anxiety, at moderate doses they induce sleep, and at higher doses they cause anesthesia and eventually death.
Marijuana is abused by a large number of LGBT individuals. Inhalation of the smoke of a marijuana cigarette is followed within minutes by feelings of well-being, relaxation, and tranquility in most people. The individual who is normally apprehensive, depressed, or angry, however, may become more so under the influence of marijuana.
Party / Designer Drugs ecstasy, ketamine, GHB were originally used by gay and bisexual men who were participating in rave-like events called circuit parties (huge parties held all across the country forming a circuit of events attended by many of the same people who travel from event to event). In recent years, these drugs have transitioned to weekend dance clubs and other recreational uses. There is a wide range of motivations for involvement in party drugs and dance venues. Most participants report that their involvement is related to increasing self-acceptance and the desire to belong to an accepted group.
Poly-Substance Abuse occurs when a person abuses several substances in a relatively short period of time. Using multiple substances is often an attempt to enhance the effect of a single drug to achieve a higher high. At other times, a drug will be used to counteract the effects of a previously-taken drug (sedatives, for example, are often taken when coming off stimulants).
Indications of a substance abuse problem may include:
- Increased feelings of anxiety / agitation or depression
- The development of extreme paranoia, often accompanied by delusional beliefs
- Sleep disturbance as evidenced by either the inability to sleep (going for days on little or no sleep) or excessive sleep
- Increasing tolerance that requires higher doses and/or more frequent use to achieve the desired effect
- Withdrawal symptoms (tremors, body aches, nausea, headaches, etc.) when stopping use of the substance
Substance abuse can be successfully treated. Education, therapy, and social support grounded in the tradition of 12-Step philosophy are a few of the methods shown to be successful in combating drug addiction.