Mindpath Health’s Kiana Shelton, LCSW, Taish Malone, LPC, Ph.D., and Brandi Garza, LPC discuss why lesbian and bisexual women face greater barriers to alcohol use disorder treatment.

Lesbian, Bisexual Women Face Greater Barriers to Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

A recent study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that sexual minority women—lesbian and bisexual— (SMW) face significant barriers when it comes to addressing problematic alcohol use.

Researchers found that 43% of sexual minority women reported heavy episodes of drinking in the past year, while 10% met the criteria for alcohol dependence, and 22% reported that they recently wanted to reduce their drinking.

Given how challenging it can be to seek help for alcohol use disorder, greater efforts are needed to support appropriate treatment for sexual minority women.

Understanding the Research

This study included 695 adult women of white, Black, and Latinx backgrounds, of which, 75% identified as lesbian, while 25% identified as bisexual, and found that alcohol outcomes varied by age and race/ethnicity, but not based on sexual identity or income.

Younger women were more likely than older women to report heavy episodes of drinking and alcohol-related consequences, while Black and Latinx women were more likely than white women to report heavy episodes of drinking and to meet criteria for alcohol dependence.

Black women were more than twice as likely as white women to be motivated to limit their alcohol use, and more likely than white women to access treatment but were more dissatisfied with service provision.

Negative Coping Skill for Stress

Deidra Thompson, DNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC, faculty member in Walden University’s MSN Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program says, “Sexual minority women (SMW), particularly women of color, young age and low income, face significant barriers to alcohol use disorder (AUD) treatment and are often dissatisfied with treatment when they seek help.”

Thompson explains, “Lesbian and bisexual women are at greater risk for AUD, and more research is needed to determine the factors that directly influence the increased risk for this population. It would also prove beneficial to develop interventions that will enhance the engagement of SMW in AUD treatment and improve outcomes.”

There are other factors that can increase the risk for AUD, as Thompson notes family history, social influences and psychological factors such as a mental illness or past trauma. “Alcohol is also sometimes used as a negative coping skill for stress,” she says.

Thompson highlights, “Unfortunately, discriminatory practices have plagued health care for decades. Individuals are sometimes discriminated against based on race or ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual identity, and age. Discrimination leads to disparities in health care.”

The stress associated with discrimination can increase risks, as Thompson notes how it can exacerbate illnesses in individuals who are already vulnerable. “It can also cause individuals to avoid seeking health care for fear of discrimination and getting treated badly,” she says.

Thompson explains, “There should be no place for discrimination in health care. Providers should seek education on cultural competence and avoid bias and discrimination when assessing and treating clients.”

Intersectional Understandings Needed

Social worker with Mindpath Health, Kiana Shelton, LCSW, says, “Readers should take away a new respect for…self-determination and motivated individuals regardless of age, sexuality, race, or socioeconomic status. Help-seeking behavior holds…power when we think about change.”

Shelton highlights how this publication fits with the need for intersectionality as it relates to the LGBTQ+ community, as sexual minority women who were Black experienced greater challenges. “There still needs to be more LGBTQ+ focused studies to better understand the ways in which we can serve this minority community,” she says.

Given that the study was limited geographically, Shelton notes that more research is needed on how an individual’s race along with sexual and gender identity may impact their drinking as a coping mechanism.

Shelton explains, “Intersectionality is real, and we see it play out in every facet of life. It’s important for us to never walk away from the ways in which multiple identities of a person intersect.”

Race, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and socioeconomic status were just a few examples that Shelton highlights to demonstrate how they may impact how one accesses treatment, the quality of that care, and their decision to remain in treatment.

As an LGBTQ affirming therapist, Shelton notes how crucial it is to hold awareness of your work environment and language. “As providers, we can say a lot about who we are before we even say a word, and this can hold a great impact on one’s continual treatment for care,” she says.

Equitable Care Access is Uncertain

Psychotherapist with Mindpath Health, Taish Malone, PhD, LPC-S, says, “While this article…has focused on alcohol treatment, readers should understand that the…findings whisper of a larger more consuming concern that leaks into multiple areas of thttps://www.mindpath.com/staff/taish-malone-lpc-phd/he availability of aid for the betterment of certain demographics of the population.”

The “us” and “them” mentality that has plagued America’s underbelly has become more noticeable, causing many to question rights, justice, and equity, according to Malone. “This article must be used to understand that the standard of expecting equitable care is now an uncertainty,” she says.

Malone explains, “Too many are disproportionally unsupported and or unrepresented and may need to ensure they advocate for themselves and are mindful of and not discouraged from thriving despite the misrepresentation of humanity some may display.”

The LGBTQ+ population has significantly high rates of behavioral health issues, as Malone notes the impact of minority stress on the LGBTQ+ population. “The normalized disparagement of these subpopulations leave them vulnerable to excessive stress and therefore more susceptible to both mental and physical manifestations,” she says.

Malone explains that such research highlights the need for more diverse offerings regarding treatment. “No one should be ostracized or refused the best level of care that should be afforded to all inhabitants of our country so that it can undoubtedly meet its claim to be great,” she says.

As healthcare providers, Malone notes the need to stand firm in ethical principles to “do no harm,” by helping to understand, reach, and serve all.

Lived Experience of Queerness Helps

Therapist with Mindpath Health, Brandi Garza, LPC, says, “This article uses data from 2010-2012. The Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality wasn’t until 2015, and since then there have been massive shifts in the visual acceptance of the LGBTQI+ and would include the sexual minority women subgroup that is the focus [of]…the…study.”

Garza highlights, “The study noted that younger, lower income and women of color face even more complex barriers when seeking treatment. Those subgroups…are…a more vulnerable group for many mental health concerns, and thus, treatment is also difficult to attain, due to much less cultural awareness and SMW focus.”

One of the most critical aspects of the therapeutic relationship is self-disclosure, according to Garza. “It is important for companies to not only hire therapists and counselors and tech assistants and doctors who are on the spectrum of sexuality and gender, but we must also encourage them to live openly in the manner they feel is appropriate,” she says.

Garza highlights, “In doing this, there will be more clients who come forward seeking treatment knowing that they are in similar company and similar narratives as their own.”

Having worked in addiction treatment and recovery for 15 years, Garza notes that there is no population that easily finds sobriety.

Garza explains that there can be vast differences in power differentials when working with marginalized populations, as she advocates for more inclusive treatment facilities that offer financial aid and higher diversity of staff that reflect the population they serve.

To read the complete article with sources and learn more about why lesbian and bisexual women face greater barriers to alcohol use disorder treatment, click here.

Kiana Shelton, LCSW

Katy, TX

Kiana has over 11 years of experience working with adults. She provides a safe atmosphere to help her patients cope with challenges. Utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy techniques from a person-centered and trauma informed lens. Kiana also provides LGBTQ+ care and can assist with navigating major life transitions such as birth/adoption, foster care issues and grief/loss. She follows Maya Angelou’s quote: ... Read Full Bio »

Brandi Garza, LPC

Dallas, TX

Few people know at a young age what their purpose is. At 11 years old, Brandi Garza declared therapy to be hers! As a person adopted at 13 years old, she has the unique lens of living on “both sides of the tracks”. Brandi lived an experience as a child of parents in poverty, with addiction, and severe mental illness. She attributed her ... Read Full Bio »

Taish Malone, LPC, Ph.D.

Fort Worth, TX

Dr. Taish Malone enjoys helping others feel empowered and teaching them how to practice healthy habits to attain optimal balanced lives. Taish has been a psychotherapist using effective methods in her community. Her passion is to help her patients re-engage in finding their hidden strengths in coping and creating a more balanced existence that will introduce themselves to their greatest potential. She strives to help each patient ... Read Full Bio »

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