KU News Service

KU researcher lands grant to study how LGBTQ individuals experience 12-step programs

Tue, 01/28/2020

LAWRENCE — LGBTQ individuals have been shown to have higher rates of alcohol and substance use problems than heterosexual or cisgender individuals. Twelve-step programs are the dominant model of addressing those concerns, yet very little data exist on how LGBTQ individuals experience the programs. A University of Kansas researcher has secured a grant to help address that knowledge gap and help people make informed decisions about their care.

Briana McGeough, assistant professor of social welfare, has landed a two-year, $67,000 grant from the Alcohol Research Group and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The grant will allow McGeough and partners to conduct surveys with LGBTQ individuals who have taken part in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous to find out which aspects of the programs work for them, which don’t and what unique challenges they face, all with the goal of providing more information to help people make informed decisions about their health care and treatment.

McGeough will partner with The PRIDE Study at Stanford University, one of the nation’s largest surveys about health and mental health among LGBTQ individuals. She has done some preliminary work with lesbian and bisexual women about their experiences in 12-step programs, and with The PRIDE Study, she will build a larger survey to enrich the data.

“Twelve-step programs are the default for alcohol and substance use problems, but we know very little about how LGBTQ folks experience them,” McGeough said. “What’s interesting to me is there are a lot of concerns about experiencing homophobia and discrimination or about the religious aspects of the program. However, some of my own research finds that LGBTQ individuals tend to get more involved in the programs, and I’m seeing people who have positive experiences in them.”

There can often be barriers to participation in other substance use treatment options as well, often depending on where an individual lives, if alternative options are cost-prohibitive and lack of awareness of other treatment programs. Such alternatives including counseling and peer-to-peer recovery exist, and further data can help individuals make better decisions about which options may be best for them and to form strategies for recovery, McGeough said.

Research has shown that 12-step programs tend to be effective, especially for individuals with severe alcohol and use issues and those who identify as religious. However, similar data does not exist for the LGBTQ community, and McGeough said she hopes to identify if the programs tend to have similar success rates for them and what aspects may contribute to such success or lack thereof.

Upon completion of the surveys, McGeough said she plans to publish her findings, share them at professional conferences and make them available to both service providers and members of the LGBTQ community who deal with alcohol and substance use issues. The project is part of her larger body of work that examines mental health for LGBTQ individuals and understanding how issues such as discrimination and stigma affect mental health.

“I want people to be able to make informed decisions about what options are available and best for them,” McGeough said. “I think this information is fundamentally useful for both the LGBTQ community and their service providers. I hope to disseminate the findings to providers to help them give the best treatment they can and to people in the LGBTQ community who are looking to make these important decisions.”

Photo credit: iStock

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