Paige Matthews, MA, NCC, is a co-occurring therapist at Bridgeway Recovery Services in Salem. A co-Occurring therapist provides individual and group counseling for people with co-occurring mental health and substance-use disorders. Matthews specializes in LGBTQ+ substance use and mental health counseling. Reach her at pmatthews at bridewayrecovery.com.
Substance use is everywhere. It’s in Salem. It’s in rural Oregon and it’s in urban Oregon. It’s on farms and it’s in apartments. In fact, there is a really high chance somebody you know has an addiction.
Addiction is everywhere, so we study addiction and how to stop it. We figure out where addiction comes from, and we make manuals and workbooks to stop it. We care a lot and we do great work.
But there’s a problem.
Addiction treatment usually focuses on socially-dominant populations such as people who are white, heterosexual, and English-speaking. While this treatment is important, it misses the mark because it misses everyone else.
One group that gets missed far too often in addiction treatment is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community. In most healthcare settings, sexual orientation is merely a checkbox on a form (if it is even on the form at all), not an integral piece of treatment.
We need to do better. We need to consider sexual orientation in medical and mental health treatment because sexuality affects health.
The health of our LGBTQ+ community is at stake. According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (2018), LGBTQ+ individuals are three times more likely to experience mental health problems.
These problems can come from the stress of discrimination; harassment; violence; being denied legal rights; family rejection; fear of coming out; being labeled “perverts;” a lack of LGBTQ+ support systems; a constant need to define and defend their identity, and health-care providers who don’t ask about or understand sexual identity.
These stressors can create mental distress, and they can also lead to substance use. According to NAMI (2018), LGBTQ+ folks use substances three times as much as their straight peers.
Three times as much.
So what do we do about it? We create healing spaces where LGBTQ+ folks can explore the connection between their sexuality, their mental health, and their substance use.
We remember substance-use treatment may look different for a gay person than it does for a straight person. Alcohol may have helped someone forget about being kicked out and homeless at age 15 after coming out to their parents. Methamphetamine may have helped someone feel confident enough to go to a gay event.
The need for more LGBTQ+ affirming addiction and mental-health treatment is urgent.
LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to attempt suicide, more likely to self-harm, and more likely to use substances. To address this need, at Bridgeway Recovery Services, we have established a therapy group where people can talk about the relationship between their sexuality, mental health, and substance use.
Let’s create more of these spaces in Salem. Let’s come together as a community and create more spaces, groups, and gatherings in Salem where LGBTQ+ people can heal.
Let’s create places where they can thrive.