Celebrate Love. Celebrate Joy.

Substance misuse is on the rise. Period.

In 2018, 10.3 million people misused opioids1 and substance misuse is on the rise in response to the coronavirus pandemic with more than one in ten adults having reported starting or increasing use of alcohol or drugs to cope with the pandemic.2

Substance misuse is on the rise with youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15% of high school students reported having ever used select illicit or injection drugs.3, 4 Substance misuse is on the rise with Black people: According to the American Addiction Center, in the past seven months, illicit drug use among African Americans is more than that of their Caucasian and Hispanic counterparts.5

When we diagnose why people misuse substances, we tend to focus on certain factors like family history, family involvement, peer pressure and length of use. Rarely do we focus on the person’s sense of self. Persons who misuse substances may be out of touch with the essence of who they are. They may struggle to recognize their divinity—that spark that rests way down deep and energizes a social fingerprint that proves there’s no one else in the world with their personality, no one else in the world like them poised as a gift to affect change. This lack of self-knowledge is fueled by the societal inequities caused by racism and homophobia. These unjust ways of relating to one another expose us to interpersonal trauma. Interpersonal trauma is stressful. Stress alone may influence substance misuse behaviors.6 Navigating the toxic stress of discrimination and oppression can increase these behaviors.

Substance misuse is also on the rise for persons who are LGBTQIAA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Agender, Two-Spirited). These lives are complicated by exclusion, exclusions that appear justified by trusted members of the community. In a toolkit published by Policy Research, Inc., being LGBTQIAA2S+ is listed as an individual risk factor that causes persons to experience homelessness.7 Previous studies, however, have demonstrated repeatedly that those who identify as LGBTQIAA2S+ (youth in particular) enter homelessness as a result of family members being unaccepting of their gender identity or sexuality.8  The problem is not who LGBTQIAAA2S+ people are but others' rejection of who they are that alters their lies. Facing such harsh realities often leads to substance misuse. An estimated 20-30% of the LGBTQIAA2S+ community misuses substances compared to 9% of the whole population.9 Therefore, we should be alarmed by the shift in attitudes toward people who are LGBTQIAA2S+. We should also be alarmed by what this means for people living at the intersection of being a person of color and LGBTQIAA2S+. Until recently, society has been making progress with acceptance. According to A Survey of American Acceptance and Attitudes Toward LGBTQ Americans by The Harris Poll, we now see a decline in acceptance of people whose sexual orientation or gender identity differ from our own.10 This negatively affects us all and calls us to action.

March is the month we observe LGBTQ health awareness. This year, let us do so with more than a mention. Let us commit to live into the spirit of Sawubona, an African tribal greeting that means “I see you; you are important to me, and I value you.” Let every conversation, every decision, every reaction be one that proves we stand in solidarity with each other.


D. Donnell

Reverend, Doctor Denise Donnell is an ordained elder in the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church. Denise spent the last five years of parish ministry on a successful journey in a cross-racial appointment at Mississippi City United Methodist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Gaining a much larger parish, Denise made the transition from pulpit to community pastor by joining Just Communities of Arkansas as Senior Cultural Strategist. She is the founder and owner of jusTalk Consulting.

Dr. Donnell holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Jackson State University, a Master of Arts in Secondary Education from the University of Mississippi, a Master of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology, and A Doctor of Philosophy in Education Administration and Supervision from Jackson State University.


1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020, 19 August). Opioid overdose. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/opioid-overdose#:~:text=According%20to%20SAMHSA's%20National%20Survey,opioid%20use%20disorder%20(OUD)

2 Panchel, N., Kamal R., Cox, C., Garfield, R. (2021). The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

3 Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, (2019). MMWR Suppl 2020; 69(1):1-83. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/ind2020_su.html

4 Center for Disease Control, Division of Adolescent and School Health, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (2020). Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report, 2009–2019. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/YRBSDataSummaryTrendsReport2019-508.pdf

Reviewed by Kaliszewski, Michael, American Addiction Center, (2020). Alcohol and Drug Abuse Among African Americans. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics/african-americans

6 Williams J, ColeV, Girdler S, Cromeens MG (2020). Exploring stress, cognitive, and affective mechanisms of the relationship between interpersonal trauma and opioid misuse. PLosOne; 15(5). PMCID: PMC 7228080. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32413081/  

US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Homeless and Housing Resource Center, Homeless and Housing Resource Center Toolkit (2021). Understanding homelessness and opioid use disorder, supporting recovery and best practices in whole-person care. https://www.prainc.com/projects/homeless-housing-resource-center/ 

8 Juergens J., Addiction Center, (2021), The LGBTQ Community and Addiction. https://www.addictioncenter.com/ad

10 Accelerating Acceptance (2018). A Survey of American Acceptance and Attitudes Toward LGBTQ Americans. The Harris Poll. https://www.glaad.org/files/aa/Accelerating%20Acceptance%202018.pdf


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