At its core definition, the word addiction sounds simple – “The fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or entity.”
The not-so-simple truth of this definition is that addiction affects more than 23 million Americans. The most at risk of these Americans is the gay man.
For gay men, addiction can manifest itself before or after coming out and can lead to:
- Risky sex practices
- Unhealthy lifestyle and diet choices
- Isolation from community and family
- Increased depression and suicide
Often, addiction in gay men can go untreated (or even unnoticed) thanks to stereotypes about gay culture, lifestyle, and what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Why Are Gay Men Susceptible to Addiction?
Many researchers have studied the correlation between addiction and different minority groups. Their results, while varied, accurately reflect that addiction can be a direct result of dealing with, repressing, and maintaining the stereotypes and anxieties that come with being part of a minority group.
These results are no more apparent in any other minority group as they are with gay men. The risk of developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol as a way to fit in, engage in casual sexual practices, or to overcome the fear and anxiety that so many go through in their process of coming out.
To understand why addiction is so prevalent among gay men, one has to understand the facts AND myths that perpetuate drug and alcohol abuse in the gay community.
Looking at both of these factors gives a full perspective of the reasons for, as well as the motivations behind, gay men losing control of their lives in the face of their own addictions.
Every myth starts with a grain of truth. For gay men, the line between fact and fantasy has been made unclear thanks to stereotypes that have been created and supported over the past several decades.
In several cases, misinformation about gay men and addiction has come from research studies that are biased in their candidate selection process as they don’t fully represent the cross-section of the gay community they claim to be studying.
For some, keeping up with these idealized stereotypes can be mentally and morally corrosive, leading gay men toward the path of addiction.
Common myths about gay men and addiction include:
Drugs make gay sex better.
Most narrow-minded viewpoints of physical intimacy between two men are shaped by outdated gender norms and prison movies. In this limited perspective, one would assume that the only sex gay men have is anal sex. And since anal sex can hurt a lot, the best way for an…easy ride…is to incorporate drugs into sexual activity through PNP or circuit parties. Studies have proven this assumption to be false.
This dangerous myth perpetuates a stereotype that for one to be gay, one must be using hard drugs when engaging in constant (and risky) casual sex practices. It has led to an increase of PnP practices which promote the heavy use of meth and other drugs to enhance sexual intercourse.
Gay men party more.
Yes, it is a well-known fact that gay men love a ball, a dancehall, a club, and anywhere that lets them get down and express themselves. However, this is a behavior that is not typical to all gay men.
This myth is just as responsible for addictive behavior as it reinforces a stereotype that to be gay you have to be partying hard. We have all had a wild night out or two in our time as adults, but using to keep up with a “lifestyle” is a dangerous road that can lead to addiction.
All gay men do drugs.
When you boil down the other myths and stereotypes about gay men and addiction, it all simmers down to one overall fallacy: All gay men do drugs.
Some think that it is because of a lack of responsibility, others file it away as a combination of boredom and disposable income, and there are those that just assume that gay men are sinfully screwing and snorting their way into a fiery afterlife in their self-made vehicle of addiction.
Regardless of the misinformation, one thing is for certain: these dangerous stereotypes reinforce risky usage habits that can create lifelong addiction problems for gay and bisexual men.
When trying to diagnose, and more importantly treat addiction, you have to look at the facts at what addiction is. Consult a trained medical professional for advice when you, your friend, or your family member might be showing signs of addiction.
Addiction rates are higher in minority groups.
Research shows that minorities as a whole tend to have more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Gay men are among the top minority groups to experience depression.
Often gay men, and minorities, in general, are negatively targeted via laws, extremists, conservatives, and government organizations. These discriminations become ingrained in many minority groups as a natural way of living. This creates a bleaker, and in more recent times, more dangerous interaction with the world around them. This can fuel feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear, all of which can be catalysts for addiction.
This inability to exist inside of the same bubble of privilege and entitlement strips minorities of their right to feel safe and secure in their home, community, or country.
Second class citizenship and the emotions that are attached to feeling like one can drive gay men to use substances as an escape from reality. If depression isn’t treated properly, addictive behaviors could become more and more prevalent.
Gay men are more likely to suffer from depression.
Most would assume – and some studies have narrow-mindedly suggested – that gay men are happier individuals due to the fact that they are “living their truth”.
Coming out can be a cathartic and life-changing experience, but don’t be fooled, it is far from glitter and glamour. Gay culture can be notoriously mean-spirited despite the fact that almost every member of the community has been a target of hate and prejudice.
The void left by the detachment and disillusionment with the gay community can push gay men toward depression, anxiety, and loneliness. In an effort to avoid these issues, narcotic substances are often self-prescribed. The further that person spirals into their depression, the more likely they are to develop an addiction.
Many theories exist as to why gay men tend to experience depression more than their heterosexual counterparts. Theories include:
- Self-loathing from years of repressive living
- Gay culture can be incredibly disappointing for those that don’t fit the stereotypes
- Heterosexual men have a larger privilege in current society and therefore do not experience the same prejudices
Gay lifestyle stereotypes create a socially pressured environment where addiction can manifest as a result of self-medicating to cope with feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, and self-harming behaviors.
When we work with the facts on what actually perpetuates drug use and addiction in gay men, we can implement effective treatments and programs that reduce, prevent, and eventually put a stop to addiction.
The Bottom Line
Addiction is not a uniform disease. It is specific to the addicted and manifests itself in a variety of behaviors, responses, and reactions.
In gay men, addiction seems to be more prevalent due to social pressures, fear of coming out, and early childhood traumas related to identity and gender. While there are those that would attribute addiction in gay men to sin, high libido, and non-stop party culture, in truth, these rarely spurn addiction or addictive behaviors.
In reality, addiction in gay men is formed through the perpetuation of toxic social norms, repressed emotions, and what can only be described as an “empty feeling” created by disillusionment towards the community.
As we advance as a society and start to remove the stigmas, stereotypes, and pressures that keep gay men locked in a bubble of fear and paranoia, we can finally make headway in reducing the rates of addiction in gay men.