09 March 2012

On LGBT Substance Abuse

I try not to re-hash material I've seen on other blogs or websites, or even in the print media.  I also try not to spend too much time revisiting issues I've already discussed, unless I feel I can add something new.

However, I just came across one of the better articles I've seen on LGBT health issues.  Specifically, it discusses some of the reasons why LGBT people abuse substances at two to three times the rate that the general population does. What it discloses, interestingly (and disturbingly) is that gay men are twelve times as straight men to likely use amphetamines (including "crystal meth") and transgender are twice to five times as likely as everyone else to abuse alcohol.

The article, by Jerome Hunt, does an excellent job of summing up some of the better- as well as the lesser-known reasons for the disproportionate substance abuse among LGBT people.  They can all be traced, in one way or another, to the discrimination we too often face.  However, in reading the article and thinking about some of my own experiences, I came to a very disturbing realization.

Having attended more than a few twelve-step meetings and support groups, I recall many people who became alcoholics and drug abusers either as a result of, or to reinforce, their isolation.  They stayed away from other people for a variety of reasons, almost all of which had to do with some sort of trauma or an inadequacy they felt in themselves.  (The inadequacies, of course, were often the results of traumas.)  Such people often were able to become and remain sober through socialization:  Their sponsors were often the first people with whom they socialized, without alcohol or drugs, in their adult lives; subsequently, they'd make other friends and acquaintances or reach out to the people they'd been keeping away from themselves.

As I read Hunt's fine article, I came to realize that LGBT people very often do not have that option.  The stresses we experience from discrimination in employment, housing and even the medical care we receive (or don't receive)--not to mention the threat or the experience of violence directed at us--cause too many of us to isolate ourselves.  That sort of isolation--a response to the alienation brought on by the experiences of bigotry--is a fertile field in which the pill, the bottle and the needle can sprout into addiction.  

However, leaving that field, and looking for love (or companionship or simply friendship) can lead to other, even more fertile, fields for addiction.  I'm talking about bars and clubs.  LGBT people, especially the young, depend on them to a far greater degree than straight and cisgender people for making friends, let alone finding dates or partners.  The reason for that is that for many LGBT people (again, the young in particular), those bars and clubs are the only "safe" venues.  

Marketers for alcohol and tobacco companies know what I've just described.  So do drug pushers. So, they target their campaigns accordingly.  More than a few scholarly articles have been written about the homoeroticism of the Marlboro Man; a good many ads for booze and smoke are subtly (or not-so-subtly) targeted toward LGBT people, especially young gay men.  And at least one beer brewer has sent a lesbian sales rep into gay and lesbian bars to offer samples.

As long as trying to be an integrated social being is so entwined with intoxicating one's self, and as long as there people and institutions that, through bigotry, thwart those attempts at integration, substance abuse will be one of the biggest problems among LGBT people.

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