Aftercare and support for recovery may be a problem, depending on the geographic location and any difficulties the client may have expressed concerning acceptance of his or her sexual orientation (there may be no LGBT sensitive counselors or programs in the client’s community).
Twelve-step recovery programs and philosophies are, of course, the mainstays in recovery and in staying clean and sober. As an organization, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) clearly embraces LGBT individuals as it embraces anyone concerned about alcohol problems and has literature specifically for LGBT individuals. Although open to all, AA meetings involve a random group of people and may reflect the perceptions and prejudices of those individuals and the local community and not be supportive of openly gay members (Kus, 1989). Many communities now have LGBT-specific AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Al-Anon meetings. Many LGBT people, however, mistakenly link AA and religion and resist attending since many religious institutions denounce or condemn homosexuality. For example, because of the moral condemnation of some religious bodies, references to a higher power or God in the 12-step model may, in fact, create fear of prejudice rather than assurance of support. While AA advises same-sex sponsors, recovering LGBT individuals require some flexibility, in that same-sex sponsorship may create problems. Many times AA respects this need. In locations where they are available, counselors should consider exposing their LGBT clients to LGBT-specific 12-step meetings so that any problems or issues relating to those meetings can be addressed while the clients are in treatment.
Some groups similar to AA have formed to meet the needs of LGBT people, such as Alcoholics Together. Many large cities sponsor “roundups”—large, 3-day weekend gatherings focused on AA, NA, lectures, workshops, and alcohol and drug-free socializing. Some LGBT people entering recovery, however, may not have come out publicly or may not feel comfortable in such meetings, especially if a discussion of sexual orientation was not part of the early recovery process.
Twelve-step programs such as AA and NA recommend avoiding emotional stress and conflicts in the first 6 months of recovery. However, for LGBT persons, the risk of a relapse may be increased if they cannot begin to work through these issues. Discussions about sexual orientation and learning to live comfortably as an LGBT person are essential for recovery, even if these topics are emotionally stressful.
On the other hand, waiting 6 months to deal with this issue may be helpful. The client will have the increased confidence that 6 months of sobriety brings as well as a clear head. Just like many other people in recovery, LGBT individuals may find some of the suggestions and guidelines of AA, NA, and some treatment programs difficult to follow. Giving up or avoiding their old friends, especially fellow LGBT substance users, may be difficult when clients have few other contacts. Staying away from bars, parties, or circuit parties may be difficult if those are their only social outlets. The counselor may need to provide special help on how not to drink or use drugs in such settings or, better yet, help clients find social environments that support recovery. Clients will need to learn how to adjust to clean and sober socializing, without the use of alcohol or drugs to hide their social anxiety.
Many localities now have LGBT health, mental health, or community centers, almost all of them with a focus on recovery and substance abuse treatment. National organizations, such as the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Addiction Professionals, the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the Association of Lesbian and Gay Psychologists, the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors’ LGBT Special Interest Group, and National Gay Social Workers, may help with appropriate referrals.
Additional things the newly sober client should learn are how to have safer sex while clean and sober, how to deal with the damaging effects of substance abuse on employment and relationships, and the adjustment to recovery couples must make that will heal the client and avoid the negative impact of codependent relationships.