..Critical Problem/Critical Proportions
Being a gay man or lesbian in
this country never has been easy.
In the past, it's meant facing
down alienation, isolation, and oppression. Today, it also means
coming to grips with our own feelings of being so out of the
closet-and so in the public eye. ("Ellen" and "Queer
Eye" are must-see TV for millions of straight viewers,
Then mix in the stresses of the
continuing clash over who we are and why and an updated version
of old-fashioned homophobia linked to fears of AIDS and same-sex
marriage, and you realize that life's not always a picnic now,
For many of us, staying in the
closet can seem the safest way to avoid both rejection -- from
co-workers, friends, and family -- and conflict.
But even those who freely express
their gayness find that it's virtually impossible to avoid society's
The result can be major stress.
And stress is a main reason so many gay men and women look for
escape in a bottle -- or in a line of cocaine or a pipe loaded
with crystal meth.
A look at the numbers can put
things into sharper perspective. Studies show that at least two
million gay men and lesbians abuse alcohol and as many as 30
percent of us will need chemical-dependency treatment at some
point in our lives -- three times the odds facing the general
Clearly, problem drinking and
alcoholism is a critical problem in critical proportions for
gay people. Luckily, it's also a problem that can be alleviated
with the simplest tools of all -- honest information and simple
..Them & Us
Many aspects of gay life contribute
to the high rate of gay/lesbian alcoholism.
But a main factor remains the
fear and hatred focused on gay people.
Needless to say, society has
never approved of same-sex romance, and the cumulative stress
takes its toll in varying degrees, depending on the individual.
Still, that's not the only factor involved in today's epidemic.
It's a simple fact that alcohol
is a focus of many gay and lesbian social gatherings. In many
communities, gay bars are the focus of most social activities.
The bar has always been the gay
equivalent of the country club, church social, and community
center, all in one.
And while treatment professionals
differ in their opinions on the degree to which bars actually
contribute to the high rate of alcoholism among gays, no one
denies the importance of bars in gay social life.
But regardless of how you come
by a problem with alcohol or drugs, once you get it, you've got
it. Then you need help to get rid of it.
There are a variety of chemical
dependency treatment options for gay people, but what's available
in your area depends very much on where you live.
In New York, San Francisco, or
L.A., gay/lesbian treatment programs are relatively easy to find
because of their large gay populations.
Some programs there and elsewhere
are run by gays, while others have gay or lesbian counselors
on staff, and still others train straight counselors in helping
In the past, gay and bisexual
men and women encountered problems when seeking treatment at
In many cases, counselors were
not sympathetic to, or even knowledgeable about, gender issues.
Some would even go so far as attempting to "cure" a
client's homosexuality, falsely believing that, somehow, gayness
itself is the root of excessive alcohol use.
Today the situation has improved
in clinics where treatment staff has received training in the
special issues confronting gay, bisexual, and transgendered men
More clinics, for example, now
include a client's lover in treatment groups for relatives. Previously,
only husbands and wives may have been invited.
Another option is all-gay meetings
of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups. The first AA
meeting for gays was held more than a decade ago, and today there
are more than 300 gay AA groups throughout the world.
To meet the special needs of
friends and lovers of recovering gay alcoholics and abusers,
special gay Al-Anon support groups have also been formed.
Alcoholics Together (AT), a similar
self-help organization, also has meetings in various locations.
For women, there are meetings of Women for Sobriety, and other
Any of the groups and resources
mentioned above and listed in the "Making Your Move:
Start Where You Are" box below can help.
But none work if the people who
need them don't use them.
In recent years we've all noticed
an increased awareness of alcoholism and other forms of chemical
dependency in the LGBT community.
This awareness has served to
improve programs and focus attention on ways to reduce alcohol's
Things are better, but there's
still room for improvement.
Because when everything else
is said and done, real change will only come when we stand together,
face the problem, and do what it takes to heal ourselves and
That may mean not settling for
chemical dependency for ourselves, our lovers, and our friends.
It may also mean taking on the
challenge of actively supporting LGBT services in our communities
and seeing to it that people who need those services are aware
of them and receive them.
But most of all it means telling
the truth -- both about the problem and potential solutions --
to ourselves and the people we care about most.
It's a big job, but it needs
doing. We owe it to ourselves to see that it gets done, once
and for all.
..Sidebar | Making
Your Move: Start Where You Are
If someone you care about has
a drinking problem, their next move could very well depend on
yours. If you need help in sorting out your options, or you need
help with your own drinking or drug problem, get in touch with
a treatment professional -- gay or straight -- or self-help
group in your area.
Don't know where to start? Start
where you are right now:
- The National Association of
Lesbian & Gay Alcoholism Professionals, 1208 East State Boulevard,
Fort Wayne, IN 46805. NALGAP also provides information on programs
specializing in treatment of gay men and lesbian alcoholics.
- Gay AA groups can be located
through the local AA Intergroup Office listed in the white pages
of the phone book or by writing to the General Services Office,
Alcoholics Anonymous, P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Station, New
York, NY 10017.
- Counseling and treatment services
can be obtained at various local agencies. Gay service directories
and local gay hotlines often list resources and can make appropriate