Text last updated 31 December 2017
Links last updated 31 December 2017
Undated photo | Mark Peterson/Redux for New York Magazine | 14057
What this is about
Alcohol severely impacts the gay community.
If you are a gay man you are three times more likely than a straight man to be an alcoholic. You may not realise that you are an alcoholic. You may not even realise that you are ill. But over use of alcohol is like any other drug – there are side effects and long term health implications if you use too much alcohol, such as liver disease. There are also long term social implications such as the inability to hold down a regular job. Unfortunately if you are gay and you already drink heavily you are more likely than straight people to continue to drink into old age.
The higher incidence of alcoholism in the gay community has been researched and documented since the 1920s, so it is a well-embedded issue. The CDC notes that alcohol and drug use among gay and bisexual men can be a reaction to homophobia, discrimination, or violence they experienced due to their sexual orientation. Substance abuse also can result in other mental or physical problems, and it can disrupt relationships, employment, and threaten financial stability.
Walter Armstrong in Real Jock noted:
In a recent study of some 650 men hospitalized for alcoholism at a VA Medical Center and ranging in age from early 20s to late 40s, researchers cobbled together a working model of alcoholism’s ever-worsening effects. Some highlights (so to speak): By the late 20s, binges and morning drinking wreak havoc with careers. By the mid-30s, blackouts, morning shakes, and other physical symptoms emerge; car accidents and drunk-driving arrests are common; first marriages end in divorce. By the early 40s, the body shows the signs of systemic alcohol-related deterioration requiring ongoing hospitalizations. Gay men can add to these effects an increased risk for HIV and other STDs, as well as for addiction to club drugs, to the tally.
Owen Jones notes in The Guardian:
The statistics are indeed alarming. According to Stonewall research in 2014, 52% of young LGBT people report they have, at some point, self-harmed; a staggering 44% have considered suicide; and 42% have sought medical help for mental distress. Alcohol and drug abuse are often damaging forms of self-medication to deal with this underlying distress. A recent study by the LGBT Foundation found that drug use among LGB people is seven times higher than the general population, binge drinking is twice as common among gay and bisexual men, and substance dependency is significantly higher.
There are several reasons why gay men and some lesbians are more likely to have issues with alcohol. The main ones are:
Many gay men meet others in bars
The formation of a gay identity in the individual may be linked to and based on the consumption of alcohol
Few gay and lesbian clients enter treatment programmes or centres
Fewer gay men visit their doctors
Use of alcohol may lead to unsafe sex
Treatment centres may not address the needs of gay and lesbian clients
As nobody talks about the problem and recovering clients value their anonymity, it is hard to find someone to mentor you
You may have had your first sex experience while under the influence of alcohol
You may have used alcohol to deal with issues of stress or to help you face yourself or your sexuality
Feeling bad about yourself, you may have internalised homophobia, and the alcohol is making it worse, leading to further depression.
If there is someone in your gay group or among your circle of friends who appears to have a problem with their consumption of alcohol, then they need understanding, empathy and support – and information. You could also make information such as leaflets available in gay community centres etc. Similarly when designing events for gay groups you can take steps to minimise dependency risk such as not linking the event to special price promotions for specific drinks and so on.
It is also easy to overlook the needs of that persons’ partner or family. While there is plenty of support available to the person with the illness, there is often little or no support provided to the partner or dependants, who may need supporting.
Alcoholics Anonymous in the UK have special groups for gay men and lesbians. There are also a number of UK support groups available over the internet. The helpline phone number in the UK is 0845 769 7555.
Like all illnesses, alcohol dependency is usually treatable. It does require a considerable degree of commitment from the person with the overuse problem. The treatment programmes are usually based around a tried and tested method called the twelve step programme. Alcoholics Anonymous supports anonymity at all times and anonymity has been found to be positive and helpful.
Do it now, August 2009: Stopping Stereotypes: Problem Drinking & Alcoholism in the LGBT Community
Realjock, Undated: Just a Sip? Gay Men and Alcoholism
Tyler Curry, The Advocate, 2 December 2015: Gay Men, We Have a Drinking Problem
Guardian, 20 October 2016: Gay men are battling a demon more powerful than HIV – and it’s hidden