Shane Smart (he/him) is the Drug and Alcohol Youth Worker at Belong To, the national LGBTI+ youth organisation. Belong To offers advice, information, and crisis counselling for LGBTI+ youth, also supporting free, non-judgemental LGBTI+ youth groups across Ireland. Through training, they ensure LGBTI+ young people are met by professionals, organisations, and services who are educated to meet and support their needs. The organisation also campaigns to ensure policy formation and practice is informed by the voice and experiences of LGBTI+ young people.
The latest research from Belong To, the national LGBTI+ youth organisation, highlights high levels of drug and alcohol use within the LGBTI+ youth community. LGBTI+ Life in Lockdown1 was a national survey we conducted in 2021 to capture the experiences of LGBTI+ young people during Covid-19. Findings revealed that the mental health of LGBTI+ young people acutely deteriorated during Covid-19 with high levels of self-harm and suicide ideation.
Some 99% of the young people surveyed who had used alcohol within the last year said they were struggling with anxiety, depression, or stress. Studies2 in Ireland and internationally have shown high levels of alcohol misuse among the LGBTI+ community. Research2 suggests that LGBTI+ people are 2-3 times more likely than heterosexual people to suffer from alcohol addiction.
Reasons for this could be increased homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, minority stress, or internalised issues regarding sexual and gender identity.
Substance use/misuse within the LGBTI+ pub and club scene can be seen as recreational, and people within this community can sometimes view their alcohol consumption not as an issue, but just part of their lifestyle.
Increased levels of the consumption of alcohol among the LGBTI+ community have significant impacts on mental and physical health. Studies around LGBTI+ alcohol3 use have highlighted this community as being at a higher risk for the development of harmful drinking issues than their heterosexual counterparts.
At Belong To, we have a dedicated drug and alcohol support service. This is a safe service for LGBTI+ young people to bring any concerns around drug and alcohol use. The service is free of cost, confidential, and non-judgmental. As our Drug and Alcohol Youth Worker, I support LGBTI+ young people around alcohol and drug use in a non-judgmental and confidential manner. Our service is based on the harm reduction model and focuses on reducing the harms around alcohol and substance misuse. We are non-judgmental and take a humanistic approach to working with young people within our service and focus on getting the right support and services in place to best serve this group.
We provide education and information to LGBTI+ youth to raise awareness on drug and alcohol use within the community and refer people to specialised agencies and services for further safe and positive support. Training mainstream drug services in ensuring their space is safe, welcoming and inclusive of LGBTI+ service users play an important role in the work that I do. As the only LGBTI+ Drug and Alcohol Youth Worker in Ireland, I link in with services around the country to support and incorporate shared learning regarding drug and alcohol use within the Irish LGBTI+ community. The need for further research into LGBTI+ alcohol and substance use is apparent through the lack of support available to the community and the lack of training for staff and services around LGBTI+ alcohol and substance use.
At Belong To, we are here to support LGBTI+ young people, their family members, and professionals who work with them. To learn more about our Drug and Alcohol Service or our work in general, visit www.belongto.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01 670 6223.
If you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s drinking, there are dedicated information and support services available across the country.
Belong To. (2021). LGBTI+ Life in Lockdown. Dublin.
Sarma, K. (2007) “Drug Use Amongst Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Young Adults in Ireland” Dublin: Belong To Youth Services
Medley G, Lipari R, Bose J, Cribb D, Kroutil L, McHenry G. Sexual Orientation and Estimates of Adult Substance Use and Mental Health: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. NSDUH Data Review.