The LGBT Health & Development Program

Family Blog–The Role of Parents in Preventing Alcohol and Drug Abuse with LGBTQ Youth

Posted on October 28th, 2015 by IMPACT in Families Blog, Featured. No Comments

Written by John Frank, Psychology Resident

cocktails in martini glasses

Ambernambrose, “Cocktails,” June 8, 2010.

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention month. In honor of this, information is provided to address substance abuse among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Research shows that LGBTQ youth are at an elevated risk for substance abuse and other related negative health outcomes (e.g., sexual risk behaviors, poor mental health) [1,2,3,4]. When LGBTQ youth have a positive relationship with their parents, they are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol [5,6]. Unfortunately, parents may not know what to do to support their LGBTQ teens. Here are a few suggestions for what parents can do to help their children navigate alcohol and drug use safely.

Develop Positive Relationships

One of the most important things parents can do to promote safe decisions about drugs and alcohol is to create a supportive environment where their LGBTQ children feel comfortable talking openly about topics like:

  • their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • drug and alcohol use
  • experiences at school
  • and any stressors they may be facing [7].

These conversations ensure LGBTQ youth feel supported by their parents, while demonstrating that parents are willing to listen and help their children overcome challenges that may otherwise contribute to substance abuse. Having regular check-ins also makes it easier for parents to monitor their children’s behavior. For more information about having these conversations, see: Talking to Your Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual Child about Sexual Orientation and Health

Help LGBTQ Youth Deal with Stressors

Parents of LGBTQ youth can also help by actively working to reduce the stressors experienced by their children [7]. Negative experiences at school, harassment, and lack of available LGBTQ-inclusive resources can contribute to substance use, especially among LGBTQ youth [8]. Ways that parents can help include:

  • working with schools to ensure they have anti-bullying policies and other supportive resources for LGBTQ youth
  • suggesting opportunities for their children join local organizations where they can interact with other LGBTQ youth
  • and/or offering to connect their children with a broader network of support.

Be Aware of Signs of Addiction and Know How to Intervene

Despite parents’ best intentions, LGBTQ youth may still engage in unsafe drug and alcohol use. It is important that parents are aware of signs that might indicate that their child is struggling with an addiction. Signs of a drug-related problem among youth include:

  • Changes in grooming, sleep or eating habits, or academic performance
  • Deteriorating relationships with friends or relatives
  • Legal trouble [9].

For information about other possible signs see:

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

What to Do If Your Teen or Young Adult Has a Problem with Drugs

If parents suspect drug or alcohol abuse, the National Institutes of Health recommend seeking the support of a professional to determine the appropriate next steps [8]. Parents can also obtain helpful information about drug and alcohol use among teens and how to start the process of finding profession support here. To ensure your child receives appropriate care, it is important to find treatment providers who are LGBTQ-affirming and familiar with the issues facing the community [2].

No matter the relationship you have with your child, know that you are not alone. Resources for parents and youth exist and can help you develop a healthy and supportive relationship with your LGBTQ youth.

Like this article? Read more on our Youth Blog and Family Blog.
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[1] Newcomb, M. E., Birkett, M., Corliss, H. L., Mustanski, B. (2014). Sexual orientation, gender, and racial differences in illicit drug use in a sample of US high school students.  American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 304-310. doi:  10.2105/AJPH.2013.301702

[2] Lee, S. J. (2015). Addiction and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender  (LGBT) issues in N. El-Guebaly, G. Garra, & M. Galanter (Eds.), Textbook of Addiction Treatment: International Perspectives (pp. 78-83). Milan: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-88-470-5322-9_98

[3] Newcomb, M. E. (2013). Moderating effect of age on the association between alcohol use and sexual risk in MSM: Evidence for elevated risk among younger MSM. AIDS and Behavior, 17(5), 1746-1754. doi:  10.1007/s10461-013-0470-8

[4] Mustanski, B., Andrews, R., Herrick, A., Stall, R., & Schnarrs, P. W. (2014). A syndemic of psychosocial health disparities and associations with risk for attempting suicide among young sexual minority men. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 287-294. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301744

[5] Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics, 123(1), 346-352. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-3524

[6] Newcomb, M. E., Heinz, A. J., & Mustanski, B. (2012). Examining risk and protective factors for alcohol use in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: A longitudinal multilevel analysis. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73(5), 783-793. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2012.73.783

[7] Center for Disease Control (2013).Parents’ influence on the health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens: What parents and families should know [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from:

[8] Goldbach, J. T., Tanner-Smith, E. E., Bagwell, M., & Dunlap, S. (2014). Minority stress and substance use in sexual minority adolescents: A meta-analysis. Prevention Science, 15(3), 350-363. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0393-7

[9] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (October 2015). What to do if your teen or young adult has a problem with drugs [Website]. Retrieved from:

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