By Joe Kort
When I was coming out, I went to a gay bar and was so uncomfortable that I needed a drink, and then another, and then another. I was nervous and scared to be in a room with so many other gay men. Each time I went back I used alcohol as a social lubricant. Thankfully – over time – the more comfortable I became as a gay man and the more comfortable I felt being around other gays and lesbians, the less I needed alcohol.
However, many continue to go drink even after they’re comfortable being around gays and lesbians. Alcohol and drug use and abuse are a growing problem among gays and lesbians. The most immediate and easy place to go are the bars where you can be anonymous in a dark lit room and get comfortable at your own pace. Add in a high level of internalized homophobia, fear, isolation, depression and suicidality from a hostile heterosexist and homophobic environment and alcohol is there to help make it all go away.
Researchers say that substance use rates are higher among gay men and lesbians than in the general population. In fact, these same researchers show that in heterosexuals, substance use significantly declines with age and women ingest fewer drugs and less alcohol than do men. However among gays and lesbians these same patterns do not hold true. In fact, Kristine Falco, author of “Psychotherapy with Lesbian Clients,” reports that when older lesbians are compared to heterosexual women in a similar age range, the older lesbians have more alcohol problems than do the heterosexual women. In fact, other researchers say that overall, lesbian and bisexual women reportedly use or abuse alcohol and other drugs at higher rates than do their heterosexual counterparts.
For gay men, there is a higher incidence of other recreational drugs in addition to alcohol such poppers, amphetamines, Ecstasy, cocaine, Special K and crystal meth. And for gay men the risk and incidence of HIV infection goes up when these chemicals are used. Lesbians also use these drugs, however gay men tend to use them more.
So how do you know if you have a problem with drugs and alcohol? There are three types of chemical users: Recreational, abusers and addicts.
1) Recreational Users drink or use drugs only on “special occasions.” These individuals can control their use and can start and stop whenever they choose. They can predict in advance how much they will drink or use and seldom suffer any negative consequences. They never get ticketed for driving under the influence (DUI) and don’t experience blackouts. (Blackouts are different from passing out. A blackout is any period of time, whether it be five minutes to five hours, that you cannot recall. No matter how much you try you can’t remember what others report you said and did while under the influence.) Drug or alcohol use doesn’t interfere with their lives in any way. It simply enhances their social lives and is used in good fun.
2) Abusive Users also drink or use drugs recreationally, can control their intake, and can start and stop when they choose. For the most part, they can predict how much they will consume. But at times, these individuals’ use is out of control. They cannot predict the results and suffer negative consequences such as DUI citations (or if not given a ticket, being stopped for poor driving), blackouts, verbal and physical fights with family, friends or partners, and risking sexually transmitted diseases, to name a few.
But abusers will take these negative consequences as a wake-up call. To avoid the negative consequences, they reduce their intake permanently or stop altogether. They may experience one or two further negative experiences from abusing drugs or alcohol, decide never to indulge to that degree again, and they don’t. They take responsibility and are accountable for the consequences of their own use and resolve them immediately.
3) Addictive Users drink or use drugs recreationally too, but aren’t in control. When they experience a negative consequence they might stop for a while but not for long. Ultimately they return to their former amount and frequency and may even use more over time. They cannot predict how much they use or how often they use it and their negative consequences become abundant. The definition of addiction is any behavior or activity that interferes with your life in some way, but which you continue to do despite the negative consequences.
Unlike the abuser, the addict suffers many more negative consequences such as blackouts, DUI’s, and risks STD’s. Typically they will blame others for their own mishaps, complaining that “Michigan’s driving laws are too strict,” or “My friends and family complain too much.” They often truly believe their own excuses and will say, “I can stop whenever I want. I just don’t want to.”
If you’ve been experiencing loss of control, failed attempts to stop or cut down, increased your tolerance whereby you’re using more to achieve the same high as before, and continue to use in spite of negative consequences, then you have an addiction. I highly recommend you seek professional help immediately or attend an AA or NA meeting. For more information on where to find these groups call Affirmations at 248-398-7105 or see Community Connections.
By Joe Kort