Many of us enjoy kicking back with an adult beverage every now and then, whether it’s having a good time with friends or enjoying a nice meal. And, of course, everyone faces the challenge of noting when their responsible consumption is veering into the realm of abuse.
For many complex and interrelated reasons, the challenge is greater for the LGBTQ community than it is for the mainstream public. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that substance abuse rates among members of the LGBTQ community can range from 20 to 30 percent, compared to 9 percent in the general population.
When It’s a Problem
Alcoholism is a complicated issue, and the factors that lead to problems among LGBTQ people are no different. “The issues that can lead to alcoholism in the LGBTQ community are multi-factorial,” says Pedro Rodriguez, MD, a psychiatrist with Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. “They range from issues such as lack of acceptance and/or rejection by family or friends. Psychological factors such as the need to escape social pressures and stigmas that they could encounter from their families, peers or community can also be a factor. In addition, alcohol can be used to numb feelings of decreased self-esteem, depression or feelings of guilt related to their sexual identity.”
Add up all those extra pressures, and it’s understandable how habitual alcohol use can sometimes grow into a real problem.
An additional factor at play is the fact that bars and night clubs have historically been the de facto “safe spaces” for gays and lesbians to socialize, let down their guard and find others like themselves, making a growing habit more difficult to recognize or stave off.
What You Can Do
If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the path to recognition and recovery is largely the same for everyone, and it’s pretty straightforward. It starts with recognizing the problem and having the willpower and support network to make positive life changes.
“The warning signs, of alcohol addiction are abrupt changes of personality and mood, lying about use of alcohol, consuming alcohol in unlikely situations such as while at work, an observable increase in issues related to school or work or legal issues such as having a DUI,” says Dr. Rodriguez.
In some cases, the individual with an alcohol problem may require outside help from friends or family members. “Conducting an intervention is the best way to help an alcoholic accept that they need treatment,” adds Dr. Rodriguez. “Interventions are also helpful when they engage the help of medical professionals or members of the clergy as a third party.”
The road to recovery is a challenging one, but many have gone through it, eventually going on to lead healthy, successful lives.
Dr. Rodriguez notes that psychological treatment, support groups, treatment facilities and medical treatment from a doctor are all possibilities in taking control. The first step is a visit with your primary care physician to determine the proper course forward for the specific challenges that you face.
While alcohol abuse is a problem that can affect anyone, you can get support from a group of people that understand your needs. Find your local GaL–AA (Gays and Lesbians in Alcoholics Anonymous) group at gal-aa.org.
• Problems at work or school
• Drinking in risky situations
• Experiencingblackouts after drinking
• Legal problems caused by drinking
• Getting hurt or hurting someone else
• Continuing to drink despite health problems related to alcohol use
• Concern from friends or family members