There is a stereotype that gay men use recreational drugs. While research tells us that sexual minorities, including gay men, may be more likely to use drugs, and at higher risk for substance use problems and addictions, the truth is that many gay men do not use drugs.
For example, statistics showing that a third of gay men use drugs also indicate that twice as many do not.
Most of the focus of research into substance use in sexual minorities has been with gay men, largely because of concerns about HIV in the gay community.
Research has shown that some gay men engage in the dangerous party and play activities, during which substance use, and particularly the use of crystal meth, has been combined with unsafe sex, including sex with multiple partners.
Yet research has also shown that one of many myths about gay meth use is that these activities are common among gay men — in reality, only a minority of gay men take meth and have unsafe sex.
So where do these myths come from? There are several possible sources of this misinformation.
One source of the misinformation is research bias. Studies of drug use among gay men may recruit samples of men who are not representative of the full population of gay men, but instead, subpopulations of drug-using gay men.
While it does appear that subcultures of gay men do engage in recreational drug use, those who do not may not be identified by researchers, particularly if they are well integrated into the mainstream community.
In fact, when studies are carefully reviewed, there is not a consistent message that gay men use drugs more than straight or bisexual men.
In fact, it seems that while bisexual young people are more likely to use drugs than other sexual identity groups, gay young men are not necessarily more likely than straight men to use drugs, particularly alcohol.
Another source of the stereotype could reflect gay men when they are new to the gay scene, who are isolated, and reach out to other gay men through gay dating sites and gay bars, simply because it is the easiest way to meet peers and potential partners.
The focus of these settings may be casual sex and even PnP, which can seem to be the norm. This doesn’t reflect non-sexual relationships with other gay men who are not engaging in these activities, which can take time to develop.
The stereotype can also be reinforced deliberately and used to take advantage of the naivety of young, less experienced gay men.
Some unscrupulous drug dealers take advantage of young, naive gay men by selling them drugs apply peer pressure by implying that drug use is what all gay men are doing, rather than that they are exploiting a young man to do something unwise or unusual.
Another place these myths come from is die-hard homophobes. Homophobia may be conscious or unconscious, but some very harmful attitudes towards gay men emerged in the 1980s, and for some people, have not disappeared.
These attitudes can include the belief that gay men are more likely to both use drugs and to engage in compulsive sex than heterosexuals.
In reality, drug use and sex addiction can occur in men or women, and in both heterosexuals and sexual minorities.
Although party and play are typically used to describe gay drug-fuelled sex, in fact, the practice of taking drugs prior to casual sex is common among sex workers, who have to cope with a variety of stressors, including having sex with people they are not attracted to.
And the phenomenon of heterosexuals getting intoxicated and even front-loading before engaging in casual sex is so common as to be considered normal in many communities, particularly among younger people.
People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) often face social stigma, discrimination, and other challenges not encountered by people who identify as heterosexual.
They also face a greater risk of harassment and violence. As a result of these and other stressors, sexual minorities are at increased risk for various behavioral health issues.
Many federally funded surveys have only recently started to ask about sexual orientation and gender identification in their data collections.
Surveys thus far have found that sexual minorities have higher rates of substance misuse and substance use disorders (SUDs) than people who identify as heterosexual. Therefore, it is not yet possible to establish long-term trends about substance use and SUD prevalence in LGBTQ populations.
Data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), suggests that substance use patterns reported by sexual minority adults (in this survey, sexual minority adults includes individuals who describe themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual) are higher compared to those reported by heterosexual adults.
More than a third (37.6 percent) of sexual minority adults 18 and older reported past year marijuana use, compared to 16.2% reported by the overall adult population.
Past year opioid use (including misuse of prescription opioids or heroin use) was also higher with 9% of sexual minority adults aged 18 or older reporting use compared to 3.8% among the overall adult population.
Additionally, 9% of sexual minority adults aged 26 or older reported past year misuse of prescription opioids—an increase from the 6.4% who reported misuse in 2017.
However, there was a significant decline in past year prescription opioid misuse among sexual minority adults aged 18-25 with 8.3% reporting use in 2018.
The NSDUH survey also shows that since 2015, there were no significant changes in reported alcohol use disorder among sexual minority young adults (ages 18-25), with 12.4% reporting a disorder, compared to 10.1% in the overall population.
A recent review on the use of tobacco products by LGBT individuals show elevated rates of smoking and ever e-cigarette use compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
Among LGB adults, bisexual women report greater use of ever trying e-cigarettes compared to heterosexual women and greater dual use of tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes compared to both lesbian and heterosexual women.
Bisexual men were more likely to report ever or current e-cigarette use, compared to heterosexual men. Taken together, these findings suggest that targeted health messages may be needed.
LGBTQ individuals often enter treatment with more severe SUDs.7 Some common SUD treatment modalities have been shown to be effective for gay or bisexual men, including motivational interviewing, social support therapy, contingency management, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Addiction treatment programs offering specialized groups for gay and bisexual men showed better outcomes for those clients compared to gay and bisexual men in non-specialized programs; but in one study, only 7.4 percent of programs offered specialized services for LGBT patients.
Research is currently limited on rates of SUD among transgender populations, although research shows that transgender individuals are more likely to seek SUD treatment than the non-transgender population.
Current research suggests that treatment should address unique factors in these patients’ lives that may include homophobia/transphobia, family problems, violence, and social isolation.
Sexual minorities with SUDs are more likely to have additional (comorbid or co-occurring) psychiatric disorders. For example, gay and bisexual men and lesbian and bisexual women report greater odds of frequent mental distress and depression than their heterosexual counterparts.
Transgender children and adolescents have higher levels of depression, suicidality, self-harm, and eating disorders than their non-transgender counterparts.
Thus, it is particularly important that LGBT people in SUD treatment be screened for other psychiatric problems (as well as vice versa), and all identifiable conditions should be treated concurrently.
LGBTQ people are also at increased risks for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) due to both intravenous drug use and risky sexual behaviors. HIV infection is particularly prevalent among gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with men, or MSM) and transgender women who have sex with men.
SUD treatment can also help prevent HIV transmission among those at high risk. For example, addiction treatment is associated not only with reduced drug use but also with less risky sexual behavior among MSM, and those with HIV report improvements in viral load
Substance abuse is a significant problem among members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ ) community.
From alcohol abuse and binge drinking to the use of harder drugs like methamphetamines, heroin, and opioids, many people in the sexual minority struggle with addiction.
Statistics show that LGBTQ adults are more than twice as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to use illicit drugs and almost twice as likely to suffer from a substance abuse disorder.
What makes substance abuse in the LGBTQ community so prevalent? There are many contributing factors, and below are some of the most common triggering issues that LGBTQ people face.
Despite growing acceptance in the United States, almost all LGBTQ individuals face some level of homophobia and discrimination. This may come from strangers, acquaintances, and even friends and family.
They also face the constant threat of workplace harassment, bullying, and even hate crimes. Lack of Support for LGBTQ People Many members of the LGBTQ community choose to remain “in the closet,” keeping their sexual identity a secret to avoid discrimination.
Living this type of double life can create feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Those who do choose to come out often face rejection from family and friends, and as a result often turn to substance abuse to help dull the pain.
Whether or not their families and friends provide acceptance, many members of the LGBTQ community suffer from internalized homophobia. This happens when they self-identify with anti-gay stigmas. The result is often self-loathing and an inability to feel comfortable in one’s own skin.
For those suffering from internalized homophobia, alcohol and drugs serve as an effective mechanism for silencing negative thoughts. When drunk or high, LGBTQ individuals can temporarily enjoy living as their true selves.
Clinical depression, stress, and anxiety disorders are very common among members of the LGBTQ community. These individuals are also prone to mood disorders, eating disorders, and other types of psychiatric problems.
In addition, some may suffer from serious health issues such as hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases. Dealing with these medical issues can interfere with the ability and desire to seek substance abuse treatment.
Many sexual minorities facing addiction problems are hesitant to seek help from a traditional treatment facility. Group therapy participants, and even some counselors, may display homophobic behaviors or make inappropriate remarks.
This prevents recovering addicts from feeling like they can let down their guard, which is essential for successful rehabilitation. In addition, most traditional treatments do not address the specific needs of LGBTQ individuals.
This includes learning successful coping methods for dealing with social isolation, family problems, homophobia, and violence. Luckily, rehabilitation centers have recognized this need, and many are beginning to offer LBGTQ-specific addiction treatment programs.
It is important for those who need help to know that viable options are available. Reaching out for support takes courage and strength,and it is also the first step towards recovery.
Gay men in America currently enjoy more freedom and acceptance than at any time in our nation’s history. But while not everyone in the gay community is willing to admit it, there is a significant “party” culture that inhabits the homosexual community in America and still lies outside the mainstream of American culture.
While this is not a problem in and of itself, high levels of drug abuse and drug addiction are common among these nightlife scenes – where a more hedonistic spirit dominates the environment.
For many young gay men, the use of drugs begins in the teenage years. This is a time of great confusion and emotional pan for many gay men who are struggling with isolation from family and friends because of their sexuality.
Society places a great deal of pressure on young gay men who have not yet come out of the closet. Confused and lacking guidance or support, many will turn to drugs as a means of self-medicating their pain.
This creates a series of bad habits that can continue on well into adulthood. And when that gay man comes of age in a community with a heavy night-life scene – and drugs available at every turn – they will be that much more likely to abuse or become addicted because of their background.
Among gay men, the “Party and Play” scene has been growing in popularity over the past decade. These sessions, which are generally organized on Craigslist or other websites feature intense drug taking and sex with multiple partners.
Crystal meth and ecstasy are the drugs of choice for these “instant parties” because of their psychotropic effects, and in the case of crystal meth, their ability to help people stay awake well into the night and prevent ejaculation during sex.
It is of course the dangerous cloud of unprotected sex with multiple partners that hangs over these Party and Play gathering.
Although significant enhancements have been made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, and a diagnosis of the disease is no longer the death sentence it once was, the fact remains that the disease is still a threat to the gay community, and is only exacerbated by the use of crystal meth and other drugs.
Gay communities such as New York City’s Greenwich Village or Los Angeles’ West Hollywood are home to a number of bars and clubs that cater exclusively to gay men.
It is the safety and inclusiveness of these neighborhoods that seems to inspire such heavy drug use. Individuals who may have long been ostracized in their own small town come to the “big city” and find a welcoming environment where, for the first time, everyone is just like them.
This comfort level leads individuals to release their inhibitions more than they generally would – which can lead to drug abuse. As a result, party drugs and stimulants tend to thrive in these areas. Another factor to consider is the collective use of drugs in the party scenes of these communities.
When drugs are taken by an individual in isolation, there is still a stigma to the behavior that keeps many from using and therefore developing an addiction. In the gay nightlife scene, however, there is a “community feel” to the use of crystal meth and other drugs.
This puts an inherent stamp-of-approval on the behavior that makes it difficult for many gay men to abstain or seek out drug rehab treatment.
Many rehab facilities report high levels of relapse among gay men because they fear being ostracized from their peer groups or being unable to take part in the social activities that they enjoy. Because drug addiction is a group problem, it is up to the gay community as a whole to change the behavior of its citizens.
Until this community stands up and says “crystal meth is bad” in a committed, organized way, the levels of addiction – and subsequent health problems – will continue on at a high level.
Because of their unique place in American society, gay men may benefit from drug addiction treatment programs that are geared specifically for them.
Unfortunately, with exception of facilities located in large cities with considerable GLBT communities, few such treatment facilities currently exist Instead, gay men seeking drug rehab are best served by addiction treatment facilities that understand their special needs and often
“programs within the program” that are designed to address gay-specific issues. It is important to ask the admission personnel at any drug rehab facility a few simple questions:
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then this facility is likely to be an appropriate choice for treatment. It is important to find a facility that is accepting of everyone’s sexuality – and more importantly will be able to knowledgably address the root causes of addiction in gay men during counseling.
Located in Palm Springs, California, Michael’s House is a residential addiction treatment center that fully understands the unique needs of its gay patients.
The caring staff at Michael’s House creates a safe, inviting atmosphere where gay men and women can feel comfortable discussing the issues related to their drug use and their sexuality. Contact Michael’s House today for more information.