Alcoholism in the Gay Community

The Scope of the Problem Relating to Alcoholism

Researchers use the term "alcohol problems" to refer to any type of condition caused by drinking which harms the drinker directly, jeopardizes the drinker's well-being, or places others at risk. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 14 million people in the United States-1 in every 13 adults-have alcohol problems, though most do not realize or acknowledge it. It is additionally estimated that 43% of U.S. adults (76 million people) have been exposed to alcoholism in the family--they have a parent/guardian, spouse or other family member who is or was an alcoholic or a problem drinker.

It is important to note that because you have an alcoholic in your family, does not mean that you will suffer from alcoholism. Also keep in mind that if you are alcoholic, you can recover. You might have to go to alcohol rehab or an inpatient alcohol treatment facility to detox, but recovery is certainly possible. Many people, both gay and straight, with alcohol problems have gotten sober and gone on to live happier and healthier lives.

Do Gay Men and Women Have More Problems With Alcohol Than Heterosexuals?

Studies from the 1970s and 1980s led many to the conclusion that rates of alcoholism were higher among GLBT population than in the overall population-sometimes citing rates of alcoholism in the GLBT community as 30%.

This high rate of alcoholism among the gay population is probably due to the challenges they face relating to prejudice, discrimination, judgemental attitudes, internalized homophobia and the shame incurred as a result of it all. In addition, all of the above may be reasons why there is a high rate of mental health issues among the gay community and when combined with addiction or alcoholism we term it dual diagnosis.

Health Problems Caused by Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Exceeding the average daily limit of one or two drinks a day is associated with a broad range of health risks. Alcohol intoxication is the leading cause of traffic fatalities in the United States. Both men and women commonly report that they take greater sexual risks when they have been drinking, leading, in a worst case, to HIV infection.

The following is a partial list of other alcohol-related health problems:

    cirrhosis (permanent scarring) of the liver
    high blood pressure
    increased risk of throat, esophgus, liver, and breast cancer
    sleep disturbances
    depression and other emotional problems

How Do I know if I suffer from Alcoholism

People with alcohol problems often answer "yes" to one or more of the following questions:

    Do you believe that in order to have fun you need to drink?
    Do you turn to alcohol to relieve uncomfortable feelings?
    Do you drink more to get the same effect that you used to?
    Do you drink alone?
    Have you had trouble at work or in school because of your drinking?
    Have you made promises to yourself or others that you'll stop drinking?
    Have your family or friends have complained about your drinking?
    Have you been late to or absent from work because of your drinking?
    Do you drink even when you don't want to?
    Has your doctor told you that you have health problems related to drinking?
    Have you tried to quit drinking?

How to Recover from Alcoholism

Some people with alcohol problems who are not physically addicted are able to quit or cut down without help. Very often though, people are going to require medical assistance referred to as alcohol rehab or an alcohol treatment program. A variety of alcohol treatments exist for alcohol dependence including self-help groups (like Alcoholics Anonymous-and there are GLBT AA groups), detox and inpatient rehabilitation.

If you chose to enter an alcohol treatment program, be sure that the alcohol rehab [] is supportive of you as a gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgendered person. If you are struggling with homophobia or spending time educating those around you, you will not be able to focus on your recovery. There are addiction and alcohol treatment programs specifically for the gay population, and many "mainstream" drug rehabs, alcohol rehabs and alcohol treatment programs which are now gay friendly.

Jonathan Huttner is a principal in Lakeview Health Systems a drug rehab, which has a gay drug rehab component within the confines of its addiction treatment center. You can reach us at []


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