Queers and Addiction
I have typed the words “gay men” or “lesbians” into Google many times in my life for one reason or another. Once I get past the porn, the most common search results I see are those referencing clubs, bars, and parties around town. Are we really a population of party crazed alcoholics as my computer would have us believe? The popular opinion is that drugs and alcohol are an uncommonly large problem in our community. Publications in the 70’s and 80’s suggested that 20-30% of individuals identifying as lesbian or gay had trouble with alcohol or drugs. Is this true even now?
It seems that individuals in some subcategories of the LGBT community are at higher risk for problematic substance use. For example, at the change in millennium, we saw a dramatic spike in crystal meth use among gay men.
Many professionals have recently attempted to conjure theories as to why addiction is more prevalent in the LGBT community without much success. I read a report that suggested gay youth turn to drugs and alcohol because they are simply exhausted from avoiding harassment and tired of trying to be invisible. A different study tried to link the concept of alienation and powerlessness to a tendency to abuse substances; assuming that LGBT persons are generally alienated or powerless. What they found was that queer individuals actually scored lower on measures of powerlessness. A surprise to the researchers. The concept that all LGBT individuals have a significantly greater likelihood of abusing alcohol or other drugs is under increasing scrutiny. So why the change?
As a counsellor, I believe that behavioural tendencies such as addiction are often the result of developmental influence and sometimes trauma. Historically, lesbian, gay, bisexual or gender-queer kids lacked a proper peer group and didn’t have parents that empathized with the identity struggles we experienced. That was then.
Today, as we work toward a brighter future, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, or gender-queer kids and adults alike have an opportunity for gay-affirming peers and family. A conservative estimate puts the LGBT population in Vancouver at 20,000 people. We are a small city in ourselves. The cure to escapism, alienation, and the trauma of struggling with ones identity is a supportive and active community which provides the guidance and camaraderie one needs.
Groups such as the Health Initiative for Men are building on this support by promoting the concept of gays helping gays. Ours is a diverse community with a million interests. More forums are developing to explore this diversity. We are moving beyond the bars and the parties. Our helping relationships and social venues are more varied.
Regardless of the degree to which drug and alcohol use has permeated the LGBT culture, there is no doubt that many queer individuals are among the tens of thousands of Canadians who suffer from alcoholism and other addictions.
Many LGBT individuals have found success in standard rehabilitation programs. I would not argue that queer persons struggling with addiction need anything more than this. These services simply need to be gay-affirming and run by LGBT individuals or allies of the LGBT community. One such publicly accessible program in our community is the Vancouver Addictions Matrix Program (VAMP). VAMP offers group therapies geared toward gay men and queer persons challenged by addiction. If you are struggling with addiction in any form, seek help from professionals within your community. We are out there and we understand what you are going through. Get in touch with a healthcare professional you are comfortable with and talk about help that works for you.