Op-ed: Why Aren't We Talking About Alcoholism?
Every time I log onto a gay news or media outlet, the majority of the articles are focused on legalizing gay marriage. While I am single, with no prospect of getting married in the near future, I wholeheartedly believe that every American, gay or straight should be able to legally marry in this country. It does, however, seem to me that all of our focus as a community is put on gay marriage and very few efforts our put into some of the other problems that plague us, most notably, drug and alcohol abuse.
Why don't we talk about this more when it is such a huge problem with LGBT's?
I know first hand of what dangers drug and alcohol abuse can do to someone, because I am an alcoholic who has been sober for four and a half years. Alcoholism is a disease that plagues LGBT people, however very few of us speak out about it and even fewer gay news outlets report about it. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 8% of all Americans use illegal drugs and 20% binge drink. However, when compared to their heterosexual counterparts, LGBT people are twice as likely to binge drink and five times a likely to drive while intoxicated. At one point, it was widely speculated that one-third of the LGBT community was alcoholic. Those statistics are rather staggering and yet, you very rarely hear anything about the subject.
It makes it difficult for me to put my philanthropic efforts behind legalizing marriage equality when I hear these kinds of numbers. Again, I fully support the cause, however, I much prefer helping those who cannot help themselves. In the past four plus years, I have seen and heard things behind the closed doors of AA meetings and detox centers that would make even the most strong-willed man weak in the knees. With so many people in our community suffering from this horrible disease and so little being done about it, it makes me wonder how these men and women, who are in such bad shape would even begin to care about legalizing marriage equality. While same-sex marriage is probably not on the top of their priority list, men and women who suffer from alcoholism and drug abuse see every part of their lives affected by the disease—their relationships, their jobs, their housing. And yet, there are so few people like them who speak about about the disease, nor do they offer any help via media outlets or news reports.
I believe the reason for this is simple: people don't want to speak about a problem within the community because they believe it will reflect poorly upon them, and the community as a whole. Either that or we're too cowardly to look at the real problems within our community because so few people talk about one of the biggest problems our community has. Last year, I went on a 40-city book tour, promoting my first book Blackouts and Breakdowns, a book of 11 essays that chronicles my road to recovery from drug and alcohol abuse in a humorous manner. On a large scale, the book was met with positive reviews, however on a smaller scale—meaning within the LGBT community and new outlets—it was met with criticism. Many wrote; "alcoholism is not a problem in the LGBT community, so why should I care?" Another said: "Rosenberg is trying to shove his ideals down our throats. Just because he's an alcoholic, doesn't mean I need to take his advice." Everyone in the LGBT community seemed to go on the defense for some reason as if I were speaking specifically about them. The thing is, Blackouts and Breakdowns is my personal story. If you relate to it in any way, then that's an extra added bonus, but my book was in no way intended to get anyone to stop drinking. But at least I was saying something about a subject that is considered taboo but that's a true issues with us.
When I first entered the AA rooms, I was a bit perturbed because when I looked around, I saw that no one there looked like me. I was 25, gay and alone. When I asked a fellow AAer whether or not there were people like me in the rooms, he responded, "Well, there are plenty of people like you, Mark. But many of them will never make it into the rooms at all."
When I heard that, I did further research and found that LGBT's have an even harder time than there heterosexual counterparts when trying to get sober as well as an overall smaller percentage of LGBT's who get sober, stay sober within their first year of sobriety. This could be attributed to the fact that our culture very heavily revolves around the bar scene, or the fact that so few people within the community speak about it on a national level.
In the past four and a half years, I have seen so many people come and go from the hallowed rooms of AA meetings from New York to San Fransisco to Washington D.C. and I always think to myself: "God, I wish I could have done something more" but, in the back of my mind I am constantly praying that they don't die when they leave the rooms. For whatever reason, alcoholism and drug use has such a higher affect on LGBT's than it does heterosexuals—perhaps because our way of life is not as accepted or perhaps it's because we aren't fully comfortable with ourselves and need to hide behind drugs and alcohol to make it better. Regardless of which, I think it's high time our community shifts focus back to the people who need it; the actual members of our community.
Lives don't depend on whether or not people can get married, even though they should have the right to everywhere in this country. Lives do depend on a healthy lifestyle and a drug-free community. Let's try to help our brothers and sisters a little bit more when it comes to this subject. I know, my email box is always open for people who need it and always will be.
MARK ROSENBERG is an author living in New York. Follow him on Twitter @MarkBRosenberg