Members of the LGBT+ community are disproportionately affected by alcohol harm. Despite this, there are few dedicated support services for this community in the UK.
In this blog, Darren Lacey, LGBT+ Lead at Forward Trust, shares his own journey to recovery and how he has gone on to set up a support group within Forward for those who identify as LGBT+.
I knew from an early age that I was different; I just didn’t know how or why.
Being born in the late 70s, I grew up with the full force of the AIDS epidemic, which scared the life out of most people, especially me – a closeted gay boy. The news was full of negativity towards LGBT+ community, there was no positive role models in the media. The best thing I could do was to hide my sexuality and pretend to be ‘normal’.
I found alcohol at 17 and suddenly I could forget who I was. The next 23 years were a blur, living and working in various pubs and bars, losing who I was more and more.
My first engagement with Forward Trust was on my fortieth birthday. I had just been discharged from hospital and was a broken man.
I engaged with the Alcohol Pathway programme which gave me confidence speaking with people while sober. I then completed a community detox, followed by the Dover Day Programme – all of which literally changed and saved my life.
The other members in these groups seemed to accept me just as I am – which was weird. Amongst the group, I felt safe for the first time in my adult life.
As I was finding out about myself, I started researching about the LGBT+ community and was shocked, yet not surprised, to learn the stats for addiction were far higher than our heterosexual, cisgendered counterparts.
I knew my own reasons for drinking – the shame, the guilt, the crippling anxiety.
When you’re bombarded by messages from society telling you who you inherently are is wrong, over time you believe you are not worthy of anything. I was utterly convinced I belonged in the gutter.
As I was researching addiction rates within the LGBTQ+ community, my community, I became more and more determined that I needed to do something to help support those affected.
Figures from The Institute of Alcohol Studies show that gay men are twice as likely to engage in hazardous drinking versus heterosexual men, with bisexual women three times as likely as their heterosexual counterparts.
The study confirms reasons given for drinking and/or drug use were the same as mine. Shame, stigma, lack of acceptance, escapism.
Various studies show there are numerous reasons holding the population at large back from accessing help.
For those in a minority group, such as the LGBT+ community, there are even more reasons – not feeling safe in group settings which seem to be comprised of white, cisgender, heterosexual men and can be religious in nature. A recent YouGov poll shows 52% of the British public are ‘non-religious’ rising to around 68% in the LGBT+ community.
I was convinced that every straight white man had an issue with LGBT+ people, mostly due to past mental and physical abuse, and the discrimination I bore the brunt of. Going to a meeting room which is 90% made up of that demographic was a big no-no for me. I was aware of the 12 steps before coming to Forward but always associated them with a need for religious belief and/or a higher power of some kind. I didn’t have belief in any of these, which is why I opted for SMART Recovery instead of the traditional 12 steps.
Since October 2020, I have been co-hosting an independent LGBTQ+ recovery meeting with members from all over the world, all sharing similar thoughts and feelings. I started working for Forward Trust in February 2021 and very soon after started planting the seed with my managers about hosting a group.
Canterbury Pride was being held in September that year and I had the idea of attending, promoting Forward.
I attended with some wonderful members of staff and keen volunteers- marching through Canterbury City Centre and then operating a stall in the main event. We had so much interest from those attending; I knew we were on to a good thing. Just being able to impart some basic knowledge and detail the support Forward can offer was fantastic.
We currently have about seven regular attendees of the Tuesday evening meeting, with a few others who drop in and out.
Each week we have a check in, asking how the past week has been and any areas of concern in the upcoming week. The conversation for the rest of the meeting is then guided from that.
We talk about everyday life but often conversation runs through addiction, the reasons behind it and acceptance within ourselves and others of our sexual and/or gender identity.
Having a safe space where you can open up and explore thoughts and feelings you may have shut down for years is huge and empowering. Many of us have had discrimination and abuse in the past so can be wary of opening up to new people. Offering a safe space for LGBT+ members to be themselves, without fear of judgement is, I feel, a massive step forward in our clients’ recovery journey.
Written by Darren Lacey
If you need support or information about LGBT+ recovery and support services, we have listed some organisations below who might be able to help you.
A group of LGBT+ community members and professionals in Glasgow that came together to design a LGBT+ alcohol and other drug related health campaign. Signposts to places of support in Scotland.
Offers one to one support, peer support groups and referrals to specialists around alcohol use.
Offers one-to-one support, counselling, drug / alcohol programmes, and drop-ins for LGBTQ+ people experiencing drug and alcohol issues in London.
More information about other organisations which offer help and support can be found on our support page.
Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. Calls are free and confidential. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9.00am to 8.00pm, weekends 11.00am to 4.00pm).
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.