BY Frank Spinelli, M D
April 16 2010 4:15 PM ET
In addition to smoking, there is always a point in a person’s life when he feels compelled to liberate himself from his adolescent self by succumbing to the temptations that we have all been warned against as children. Alcohol, like smoking, has an enticing appeal, yet its consequences are just as devastating for some people.
While some can control their ability to drink socially, others cannot. The debilitating effects alcohol can have on the human body, whether your liver or your judgment, are well known. Thousands die each year at the hands of a drunk driver. Nearly 17.6 million adult Americans currently abuse alcohol, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Several million more engage in risky drinking that could lead to alcohol problems. These patterns include binge drinking and heavy drinking on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, alcohol use and dependence is common among gay men.
Textbook factors that contribute to alcohol dependence include feelings of internalized homophobia, which can lead to psychological stress. Often, gay men experience their first sexual encounter under the influence of alcohol. This can develop into a vicious cycle. In order to overcome their inhibitions about their sexuality, some men drink and then blame their behavior on the alcohol. Acceptance is the key to recovery in gay men. Risk factors for alcohol dependence include men who have a family history of alcohol abuse or those who were exposed to alcohol growing up. Drinking at an early age has been associated with developing problems with alcohol in the future.
Concerning alcohol consumption, you should expect to answer questions regarding exactly how much you drink. Many gay men consider themselves social drinkers, which is an evasive a response when a doctor asks a patient about drinking. Expect to hear from your doctor: “How often do you socialize?” It is also important to understand what you consider a “drink.” Is it a glass of wine a night, a shot of bourbon, or a six- pack of beer? Everyone’s perception is different. Ask yourself, “How often do I drink?” You will be surprised. Gay men underestimate three things in life: how much they drink, how much they smoke, and how much they have sex.
Indications that you, or someone you know, has a drinking problem include:
1. Problems at work or missing work
2. Numerous injuries attributed to falling or being accident- prone
3. Drinking and driving
4. Blacking out or unexplained loss of consciousness
5. Medical problems like peptic ulcer disease