The LGBTQ+ Community, Substance Abuse, Recovery and Religion

Growing up, Brendon O’Rourke endured ridicule from his peers for being gay. This caused his self-confidence to erode.

He felt judged. He needed an outlet.

O’Rourke began drinking in high school. Alcohol numbed his pain. It also made him feel comfortable and desirable. In college, he took evening classes so that he could drink into the night. Sometimes he attended class with a Snapple bottle filled with vodka.

His drinking led to cocaine use. Then he began using crystal meth. After being arrested, he entered rehab. At age 25, he became sober.

"Turning to drugs and alcohol never solves the problem,” O’Rourke told CNN in 2011. “It might hide feelings and take away pain, but it never fixes the problem.”

O’Rourke is one of many LGBTQ+ people who has battled substance abuse.

In recent years, substance abuse among the gay community has reached epidemic proportions. Substance use disorders affect 20 to 30 percent of the LGBT community, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Data have shown that bisexual adults have higher rates of binge drinking than that of heterosexual adults, according to SAMHSA. The organization also found that bisexual women were more likely than straight women to binge drink.

A 2010 study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that gay, lesbian and bisexual college students were more likely than heterosexual students to report recent illicit drug use.

Treatment has proven effective in reducing substance abuse among individuals battling addiction. But religion has also shown to help people during these difficult times.

More LGB people are turning to religion than ever before: A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center found that 48 percent of LGB Americans identify as Christian, up from 42 percent in 2013. Furthermore, 11 percent of LGB respondents identified with faiths other than Christianity.

A 2001 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that religion and spirituality had potential for reducing the risk of substance abuse among teens and adults. Those who attended religious services more often were less likely to smoke, drink or use illicit drugs.

“Individuals in successful recovery often showed greater levels of faith and spirituality than did those who had relapsed,” the CASA report stated.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual 12-step program that was started by a man who battled alcoholism. These 12-step meetings aim to help people abstain from alcohol and encourage those in recovery to maintain their sobriety.

Twelve-step groups also exist for people battling illicit drug use. Like AA, these programs make reference to a Higher Power, though meetings are open to anyone. These programs have proven effective when used in conjunction with treatment.

Bio: Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He boasts several years of experience writing for a daily publication, multiple weekly journals, a quarterly magazine and various online platforms. He has a bachelor’s degree in communication, with a Journalism concentration, from East Carolina University.


Cruz, E. (2015, May 12). Report: Half of LGB Americans Identify As Christian. Retrieved from

Landau, E. (2011, June 10). LGBT in school: 'I lost a lot of my friends.’ Retrieved from

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. (2001, November). So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion And Spirituality. Retrieved from

Reed, E. et al. (2011, February 1). Alcohol and Drug Use and Related Consequences among Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual College Students: Role of Experiencing Violence, Feeling Safe on Campus, and Perceived Stress. Retrieved from

Stepping Stones. (n.d.). Bill’s Story. Retrieved from

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010, June). Substance Abuse Treatment Programs for Gays and Lesbians. Retrieved from

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). Top Health Issues for LGBT Populations Information & Resource Kit. Retrieved from

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