It’s already been established that the LGBT community has higher substance abuse rates than the general population (20-30% vs. 10%). Now comes news that, thanks to old-school black hat SEO techniques and straight-up misdirection, Google searches for “LGBT addiction treatment” lead people not to the results they’re looking for, but to “pages upon pages of sites that leverage these keywords (and others)—that redirect visitors to the homepage of a general alcohol and drug treatment facility.” Which essentially means that LGBT addicts looking for help receive very few relevant search results.
It doesn’t happen by accident: things like “LGBT” and “nonjudgmental” are plugged in as keywords—often by paid SEO experts—so a rehab facility will rank high on these searches, despite not specializing in LGBT treatment. Since people who’re shopping for rehabs usually feel pretty scattered even before landing on these weasel results, this nasty little keyword trick can end up hurting their chances of recovery.
The Ol’ Runaround, Just When You Don’t Need It
Why is getting a link to a general treatment facility a big deal? Isn’t addiction always addiction, whatever a person’s sexual preference or identity? Actually, no. First, no one needs a runaround when they’re searching for a treatment center that actually offers the specific services they require. Second, according to a study discussed in Addiction Professional Magazine, specialized treatment for LGBT addicts is, in the long-term, “the only program treatment factor that’s a statistically significant predictor of current abstinence.”
Marketers have always known that rates of addiction are higher among the LGBT community—and taken advantage of it. That’s why tobacco companies have targeted the community through direct advertising in gay and transgender magazines, and by sponsoring events in these communities. And the people of Absolut were focused on the gay market even before RuPaul Drag Raced.
The Not-So-Pretty Stats on LGBT Addiction
If you want some more information about why this SEO malfeasance is so disturbing, consider this: Half of all gay men will experience chemical dependency or addiction issues in their lifetimes, the LGBT community is 40% more likely to engage in meth use and LGBT teens are nearly 200% more likely to use drugs or alcohol. In addition, nearly one-fifth of LGBTs smoke pot once a week.
There are plenty of reasons why these addiction rates could be so high, including the drip-drip-drip of constant pressures like minority stress, social prejudice and employment discrimination (amazingly, it is legal in 29 states for an LGBT individual to be fired, denied employment, or discriminated against simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity).
Add to the mix housing discrimination, which up to 70% of transgender people have experienced, issues caused by the lack of relationship recognition that can lead to problems accessing public programs, and discrimination in health care and you’ve got justifications for using far greater than the ones I have for binge watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Google’s trying to improve its search results by focusing on actual content instead of these easily manipulated keywords, but these changes will take a while to fully roll out. Right now awareness and a little extra work is needed.
So What Are People Supposed to Do?
For the moment, it’s best, when calling a rehab, to make a point of asking if they provide LGBT specific services. If they say “yes,” take the time to follow up with questions about which aspects of the LGBT community are represented, the training staff members have with LGBT issues and any specialized care offered, in addition to any other personal concerns.
We’ve done some of that work for you, as you can see if you check out our reviews of Pride Institute, Challenges Treatment Center, Van Ness and the McIntyre House, among others. But if you’re going to the World Wide Web, remember that Google, despite that rainbow-colored logo, isn’t always your friend when it comes to finding LGBT-specialized addiction rehabs.