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1. Substance Abuse in the Gay and Lesbian Community
Alcoholism is a fatal chronic illness affecting the lives of 20 to 30% of the homosexual population (Ziebold & Mongeon, 1982). Studies have found that 35% of lesbians had a history of excessive drinking, compared to only 5% of the heterosexual women in the sample (Saghir, 1970; Lewis, 1982). Approximately 30% of lesbians and gay men are addicted to drugs (Rofes, 1983). The facts show that the homosexual community constitutes a high-risk population with regard to alcoholism and drug abuse.
Why is addiction such a problem?
It is important not to assume that homosexuality causes drug or alcohol abuse. When gays, lesbians and bisexuals internalize society’s homophobic attitudes and beliefs, the results can be devastating. Society’s hatred becomes self-hatred. As a minority group; gays, lesbians and bisexuals are victims of systemic and ongoing oppression. It can lead to feelings of alienation, despair, low self-esteem, self-destructive behaviour, and substance abuse (Nicoloff & Stiglitz, 1987).
Some gays, lesbians and bisexuals resort to substances as a means to numb the feelings of being different, to relieve emotional pain or to reduce inhibitions about their sexual feelings. Substance abuse often begins in early adolescence when youth first begin to struggle with their sexual orientation. When surrounded by messages telling you are wrong and sick for who you are, eventually you begin to believe it. Having to hide your identity and deal with homophobic comments and attitudes– often made by unknowing friends and family — can have a profound effect on you. Lesbians and gay men are also 7 times more likely to be the victims of crimes than the average citizen (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1984). In response to this overwhelming oppression and homophobia, many lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals use alcohol and drugs to cope.
Homophobia in our society has limited the opportunities for gays and lesbians to meet each other safely. The gay bar culture emerged as a place to find other gays and lesbians without fear of harassment. The gay bar is a seductive institution. It is the most available place where people can explore being gay and socialize. There is also a lack of alternative alcohol-free places and occasions to socialize within the gay community. This only intensifies the implied connection between drinking and socializing in gay and lesbian social circles.
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2. Getting Help For Yourself or For Someone You Know
The first step toward getting help is recognizing that your substance abuse is a problem. This is rarely easy. The following is a list of questions, though not inclusive, that you should ask yourself.
- Do you feel irritated when other people comment on how much you drink/use drugs?
- Do you ever drink or use drugs when you are alone?
- Have you had periods of time while you were drinking or using drugs that you could not remember later?
- Have you ever had problems with friends, school, or work, or arrested as a result of drinking or using drugs?
- Have you ever wondered whether you have a drinking or drug problem?
If you think you have a problem there are groups and counseling services available. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer self-help groups and can be found in the phone book.
Most major cities have gay and lesbian AA and NA groups. (See your local gay/lesbian community center, hotline, or "Welcoming Congregation" for details.
There are also private therapists specializing in alcohol and drug addiction.
The process of recovery allows you to heal by working through those feelings you have pushed down with alcohol and/or drugs. It is often said that when you have a substance abuse problem, your emotional development stops when you start abusing. When you medicate your feelings, you numb yourself from conflicts and reality. Once you decide to no longer abuse, those feelings and emotions will surface and may be overwhelming. Self-help groups offer a safe and supportive environment where people share common experience, strength and hope.
This article was written by Dot Wojakowski as part of a Challenge Grant, produced and distributed by McGill Student Health Services:
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3. A Wide Selection of Helpful Resources Regarding Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs
It is commonly believed that factors such as stigma, denial, alienation, discrimination, and the cultural importance of bars place lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals at higher risk of developing problems with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD). Although we need much more research before we can substantiate this belief, we do know one thing: many issues need to be understood and addressed by prevention professionals working with lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities before they can deal with the destructive consequences of ATOD.
I hope this prevention resource guide increases your understanding of the issues important to the lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities. The guide is the product of a search of the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information data bases. It describes articles and reports from peer-reviewed journals and books, lists materials with clear ATOD prevention messages, and gives resources for more information.
Alcohol, tobacco, and other drug problems affect the lives of millions of Americans. We at CSAP welcome this opportunity to work with you toward a healthier future for our lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities.
Elaine M. Johnson, Ph.D.
Link to: ftp://ftp.health.org/pub/ncadi/publications/LGB.txt
(Fifty pages reviewing publications, studies, articles that inform us on the issues around glbt drug and alcohol misuse.)