Research has demonstrated that about 10% of heterosexual people take drugs. I suspect it wouldn’t surprise you that much. It might, indeed, upon reflection, surprise you that the number was that low. What if I told you that of this heterosexual sample about 5.3% of them have self-harmed, with 5.3% attempting suicide? That means that half of those that take drugs have mental health issues and have suicidal ideation.
But, let me induldge in a semantic change. Let me change ‘heterosexual’ with ‘gay’. This little change give us a snapshot of a completely different world; a world of careers damaged, of lives ruined, and of friends in the shivering throws of addiction, with loved ones and friends now dead.
Nearly 35% of gay people have engaged in substance misuse in the past year, a giant leap from their heterosexual counterparts. 35% of LGBT people have chronic suicidal ideation with 25% following on those impulses, attempting suicide. 44% of gay people engage in risk inducing behaviour and have unprotected sex, exacerbating their chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection or disease.
The raw data suggest one brutal reality: gay people are more likely to abuse drugs and gay people are more likely to die as a result of their addiction.
The danger of these figures is that it may add to the stigmatisation that the LGBT community faces daily.
It risks a discourse that will never rise above the image of gay people drunk and drugged up, promiscuous and flirting with danger and death. The link between mental health and substance abuse in the LGBT community is not built on their genetic predisposition to such practices; it’s built on their exposure to factors that fuel such behaviour, most specifically culturally embedded homophobia.
There is a clear link between homophobia, homophobic abuse and suffering negative psychological and emotional distress as well self-destructive behaviour. From the workplace to school bullying, the menace of homophobia hangs over someone who is gay, like an oppressive and consuming shadow. To escape from this, gay people seek likeminded people to engage with, to feel safe with, and to find comfort from a world that appears to reject and loathe them.
They find friends and lovers, most likely, at a bar and at a club, a drink in their hand and perhaps, tragically too often these days, a doggy bag in the other. Since the introduction of gay dating apps, such as Grindr, the gay clubbing scene has waned somewhat. But, nevertheless the need for shared identity is the same.
The shame of being gay has continued to drive people in to segregated communities that have developed their own culture, their own linguistics and their own code of practice.
The data I outlined above shows one worrying thing though: this particular community is now at risk as being defined by a drugs scene that promises to consume it. The numbers continue to rise, as do the deaths, and with it so does the takeover of the gay community by drugs. Gay people’s lives are being ravaged by drug addiction. It is ruining a community that has harboured the most vulnerable for decades.The march of drugs on the scene will banish all safeguards that a vulnerable lost young person might hope to find there.
Although, mental health services and substance misuse services can, and indeed must, do more to support those at risk, the gay community must also step up to the challenge. Very often the first step on the long and painful struggle to recovery is to admit there is a problem. The LGBT community must not allow the drug abuse to carry on. It must finally admit that there is a problem. Denying that there is a problem will only allow the acute problem of substance misuse in the LGBT community to fester and become worse.
The first step therefore is up to those in the gay community; to admit drugs abuse is an issue, and that together find out how to rid it from the scene.