Study Explores New Way To Help LGBTQ Youth Identify Substance Use Disorders

Up-close shot of new LGBTQ pride flag

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Many people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) face challenges that people who identify as heterosexual or cisgender don't.

For example, people who are LGBTQ may face social stigma, discrimination, harassment, and violence. This can put them at greater risk for mental health challenges and substance use disorders (SUDs).

In fact, people who identify as LGBTQ experience higher rates of substance misuse and SUDs on average than people who identify as heterosexual or cisgender.

Scientists and doctors like Lurie Children’s Hospital researcher Dr. Robert Garofalo are seeking ways to help LGBTQ youth avoid or overcome SUDs. Dr. Garofalo and his team work with LGBTQ youth and their families in the Chicago area. The main goal of his work is to reduce the harms associated with drug use and mitigating risk (especially as it relates to HIV).

Dr. Garofalo and his team are testing an electronic screening tool, like a checklist or questionnaire, that could be used when a young person is talking to a health care provider while getting tested for HIV. HIV testing is a service often accessed by LGBTQ youth and presents an opportunity for doctors to offer other types of health care during that clinic visit.

The screening tool asks the young person about their alcohol and substance use and gives them information about their risk for SUDs. The study is also testing a brief intervention to reduce substance use for participants at medium to high risk of SUDs.

Studies like this one can help doctors and scientists learn about the perspectives of LGBTQ youth and understand their experiences and find ways to offer better health care and other services to help youth prevent or get treatment for SUDs.

To hear more about Dr. Garofalo’s work in his own words, check out this Twitter interview. You can also check out his study—it’s currently recruiting male teens and young men who identify as gay or bisexual, and young transgender women ages 16 to 25 years old.

Learn more: Anyone can become addicted to drugs. 

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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