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Death by Alcohol Is Rising. Are Gay Men Leading the Charge?

Here’s something to think about as you toast the New Year: Americans are drinking themselves to death like never before, according to Washington Post blogger Christopher Ingraham.

Ingraham analyzed statistics recently released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and concluded that with more than 30,700 Americans dying last year from alcohol-induced causes, from alcohol poisoning to cirrhosis, “alcohol is killing Americans at a rate not seen in at least 35 years.”

He reported that in 2014, “there were 9.6 deaths from these alcohol-induced causes per 100,000 people, an increase of 37 percent since 2002. This tally of alcohol-induced fatalities excludes deaths from drunk driving, other accidents, and homicides committed under the influence of alcohol. If those numbers were included the annual toll of deaths directly and indirectly caused by alcohol would be closer to 90,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

I know. What a buzzkill.

Why gay people are driven to drink

No one is saying that all gay men and lesbians are drunks. But as you raise your glass tonight, do so knowing that while America in general is drowning (quite literally) in booze, gay people are at even greater risk of developing alcohol and substance abuse problems.

A recent blog post for Michael’s House, a substance abuse treatment center in Palm Springs, explains why.

“Statistics indicate that individuals who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) develop substance abuse disorders at a rate that’s between two and three times higher than the societal average, prompting many to wonder what specific factors are contributing to this alarming trend,” the blog reports.

Among those factors: The gay and lesbian community as a sexual minority. “According to a theory called the minority stress model, the experience of lifelong discrimination, victimization and harassment in a hostile, intolerant society is a large contributor to many of the health risks of minority groups,” the Michael’s House blog reports. “The Meyer minority stress model applies this theory to addiction in the LGBT community in particular. The model suggests that not only do these individuals experience discrimination, but being persecuted by their own culture leads to expectations of rejection, internalized homophobia and elevated instances of resorting to self-destructive coping processes, including substance abuse.”

I don’t think many would argue against the fact that gay (and lesbian) people aren’t always nice to each other. Gay men, for example, often hold one another to outrageous standards related to a body beautiful, a certain “style,” sexual prowess, even certain political views.

The gay bar as a town square

Then there’s the issue of the bars. As the Michael’s House blog astutely reports, “The targeted marketing of alcohol and tobacco companies have exploited the fact that one of the few places where LGBT individuals feel free to be themselves is in certain bars and clubs, making it more likely for such individuals to abuse alcohol since they’re likely to frequent places where they feel accepted and comfortable.”

In defense of the gay bar, these places for years were our town squares when there were none other. In many communities, they still are. The birthplace of the modern-day gay rights movement happened at a gay bar (Stonewall) for a reason. Gay bars will forever have an important chapter in our history.

But this New Year’s Eve, most of us have lots of places where can celebrate comfortably besides a gay bar, or any bar for that matter. That’s not to say the responsible among us shouldn’t have a drink. By all means, New Year’s Eve is a great time to do so, and bars can be fun.

Just remember that booze is killing America like never before, and gay men and lesbians are at even greater risk of alcoholism.

Drink responsibly tonight. The New Year is sure to bring a lot more victories to the LGBT movement that will be worth being around to celebrate.