Your letter from the person who wanted to stop her partner’s out-of-control drinking really resonated, because it could have been written about me.
I know I am drinking far too much but I am not sure what life would be like if I stopped. Almost all my activities with my gay social network involve alcohol. When friends come over, we drink. When I go to a friend’s house, we drink. When we get together at a bar or restaurant, the alcohol flows. If we’re doing something in the community, even a fundraiser for a nonprofit, plenty of liquor is served.
I don’t like having a hangover the next day and I’m unhappy that I’ve been gaining weight, so I’ve tried not to drink sometimes or not drink as much. But then I feel like I don’t fit in with my friends, who are all laughing or joking about stuff that isn’t as funny if you haven’t had a few. Also, I get asked why I’m not drinking, which makes me uncomfortable and I worry my friends feel I’m judging their drinking by not joining them.
Another complication: Because I’m single, it makes it much easier to flirt with people when I am relaxed from a few drinks. If I don’t drink, I’m pretty much a wallflower.
This is getting out of hand. A few drinks give me a sense of calm that is really helpful after work and so now I am drinking when I’m alone, too. When I don’t, I have this tension and craving that I can’t get rid of. It feels like I’m damned if I do drink and really damned if I don’t.
You’re not alone. I frequently hear stories like yours in my practice.
Yes, alcohol and other substance abuse is entrenched in LGBT culture, with reason. Anti-gay discrimination is still alive and well. Many of us have experienced slights, insults, bullying and assault, or felt the need to hide who we are, all of which lead to isolation, distress, anxiety and depression. Alcohol and other drugs push away pain, easily becoming quick paths to feeling good. And bars, historically one of the only places gay men and lesbians could meet, are still a popular alcohol-centered hangout. The effect of all this: about 25 percent of LGBT people abuse alcohol, about five times the rate it occurs in the general population. Rates for other types of substance abuse are similarly high.
Of course, there are many other individual reasons why any of us might abuse alcohol and other substances, aside from LGBT-specific factors.
If you want to cut back or stop drinking, you will have to find other ways to soothe yourself when you’re stressed or anxious. Tools that can help include therapy, exercise, meditation, yoga and a healthy diet. Your first step, though, will be deciding to make your own well being your top priority. This is tough to do if you’ve absorbed the homo-negative messages that still saturate our world or are simply plagued by your own self-critical beliefs and thinking. But remember that “tough” is not impossible.
You’ll also need to work at doing what is right for you in the face of pressure to live up to other people’s expectations. Keep in mind that you already know how to do this, because you have come out. Can you start looking around for some additional friends and places to socialize? Not all LGBT individuals are heavy drinkers and there are a lot of LGBT-themed activities in our community that don’t involve alcohol. Consider finding something you like and jumping in. Doing so may help you to feel calmer and more confident.
One more crucial point: I suspect that reducing your alcohol intake will be hard to do on your own. The anxiety and cravings you describe suggest a level of unmanageability to your drinking, a good indication of alcoholism. So I urge you to attend several meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous to get a sense of what it offers. You will find a welcoming and supportive community of non-drinkers and there are many LGBT AA meetings.
I wish you the best. And please remember that you absolutely can live a fulfilling and connected life as a sober gay person.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in LGBTQ couples counseling and individual therapy in Washington, D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.