Prescription Drug Misuse Trends in the LGBTQ Community

Sometimes it can be hard to get the full picture of what’s happening in the LGBTQ community due to lack of surveys that are inclusive of identities outside of heterosexual, male, and female. Even when they do include LGBTQ identities, they often fail to include enough options for gender and sexual orientation, or to provide an analysis of LGBTQ and other intersecting identities (e.g. race, socioeconomic status, etc.).

However, drawing from several national and statewide surveys, this is what we do know about how prescription drugs are impacting the community:

  • According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals were more likely to misuse prescription medications: 14.2% of LGB young adults between the ages of 18-25 reported prescription drug misuse within the last year, compared to 8.0% of their heterosexual peers. This includes prescription tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives. (1)
  • Data from the US Trans Survey (2015) shows that seven percent (7%) of transgender adult respondents used prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them or used them not as prescribed (“nonmedical prescription drug use”) in the past month, compared to 2% of the U.S. population.  Highest use was reported among 25-44 year-olds, followed by those between the ages of 18-24. (2)
  • Nationwide, 27.5% percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, and 24.3% of questioning students had ever taken prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription, compared to 15.5% of heterosexual students. (3)
  • There is limited data about substance misuse among trans students due to lack of inclusive survey instruments. However, according to the 2013‐2015 California Healthy Kids Survey, trans students were more than twice as likely than their cisgender (non-transgender) counterparts to use prescription drugs within the last 30 days. (4)

Risk Factors

LGBTQ individuals are not at higher risk for substance misuse simply because they are LGBTQ. Much of the risk has to do with discrimination, stigma, violence, and harassment many face based on their identity. As a whole, this is known as minority stress. (5)

Experiences and factors that can place LGBTQ youth/young adults at higher risk for substance misuse include:

  • Experiencing emotional, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse in childhood (6)  
  • Victimization in school and in community such as violence, bullying, harassment (7)
  • Rejection from parents and caregivers (8)
  • Availability of and access to prescription drugs is a significant risk factor for adolescents initiating use, and the same may be true for gender and sexual minority youth (9)

But let’s Flip the Script on that – When LGBTQ youth do have positive support in their life, they are at lower risk for abusing substances.

And that’s where you come in!

Protective Factors

While we are still learning how opioids specifically impact the LGBTQ community, the following protective factors support mental health, well-being and protect against risk for substance use:

  • Connection with parents, caregivers, and family who are supportive of their LGBTQ identity (8)
  • Communication with parents and caregivers about the risks of substance abuse (10)
  • Increasing safety, comfort, and connection on school campuses through policies that support, affirm, and protect LGBTQ youth (10)  
  • Engagement in school and community activities (11)
  • Positive peer supports (11)
  • High self-esteem (11)

Keep following for more tips about how to safely store and dispose of prescription medications, how to recognize signs of misuse, and how to connect to treatment.



  8. Ryan, C. (2009). Supportive Families, Healthy Children. Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Children.