A first in Canada, Vancouver Coastal Health just launched in July of this year alcohol and drug services specifically geared to lesbians and gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirited and queer people.
“Issues specific to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit and queer people affect their alcohol and drug use,” said Devon MacFarlane a Community Developer, Prism Alcohol + Drug Services. “We’ve tailored our program offerings to meet their needs, after talking with this community.
According to lesbian staff member Stacey Boon, who facilitates the women’s (lesbian/bi/queer) group for Prism, specific resources for lesbians with addictions are important because there are barriers that prevent lesbians from getting the help we need. These barriers can include “fear of past discrimination and homophobia”, addictions staff who “believe that therapy can cure homosexuality or gender identity issues” and staff who are “antagonistic” to lesbian and queer clients, says Boon.
Boon notes that “there is little known about women and addictions in general. A lot of the research on addictions has been done with men, and the results are just extrapolated (or assumed to apply) to women. Similarly, research on gay men and addictions has been extrapolated to lesbian women.” According to Boon, “generally speaking, research indicates that queer people may be heavier users of substances than the general population. In earlier research, lesbians have been identified as heavier users of alcohol. This is questionable though, because older studies have been beset with methodological problems. It is probably safe to say that in addition to the other risk factors (i.e. biological and genetic), the psychological effects of homophobia and heterosexism (both internal and external) might put queer clients at greater risk to use substances. ”
In addition to homophobia and heterosexim, sexism also takes it’s toll on lesbians. Boon notes that just being women in a society where we are second class citizens provides lesbians with issues. “Women who seek treatment present in treatment with more shame, because there is additional stigma for women who abuse substances. It is more unnacceptable for women to abuse substances.” She points out that “women more often come into treatment with histories of violence and abuse because women are more likely to have experienced abuse of various kinds.”
Prism Alcohol + Drug Services will be rolled out over several years. Immediately, services will include one-on-one, couple, and family alcohol and drug counselling, support groups and a men’s methamphetamine program. In addition to the lesbian/bi/queer women’s group, lesbian counsellors are available to provide individual, couple and family counselling to lesbian clients. Counselling services will be provided by lesbian/bi/gay/trans counsellors along with straight allies, but clients will be able to be matched to a counsellor of their orientation or gender identity.
Prism Alcohol + Drug Services are accessible through community health centres in neighbourhoods across the city, including the West End, Commercial Drive, Main Street, South Vancouver, Joyce-Collingwood, and the Downtown Eastside.
Lesbian Health Links: