In recognition of Pride month, STRONG reached out to a few prominent LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual and/or Ally) sobriety and mental health activists in the hopes of digging deeper into the extremely complex relationship between the LGBTQIA+ community and alcohol abuse. “Don't speak for us, but do add your voice to our chorus so our song can be even stronger,” says Saratoga Schaefer, sobriety and mental health activist on Instagram @the_sober_climb, and author of Beautiful After Breaking.
Here are some insights we can all learn from, and a new resource that’s breaking down barriers for LGBTQIA+ folx through their journeys with alcohol.
The Complex History Between Alcohol and the LGBTQIA+ Community
Before exploring the relationship between alcohol and the LGBTQIA+ community, it's imperative to understand how and why they're interwoven. “Historically, alcohol has been a social lubricant for the LGBTQIA+ community because drinking can often feel like a way to eliminate inhibitions and explore your ‘freedom’ and ‘truth,’” explains Saratoga. “The reality is that alcohol can, and does, actually stifle those things, but as a historically marginalized and mistreated community, LGBTQIA+ people were often pushed to the outskirts of society and weren't afforded the same safe spaces that straight, cis people were. This was (and still is) especially prevalent for BIPOC LGBTQIA+ people. Thus, our community primarily found acceptance and sanctuary in bars and clubs. And because many LGBTQIA+ people deal with problems unique to our community (prejudice, hate crimes, not being able to come out, family issues, limited access to the correct healthcare/therapy, gender dysphoria, etc.), we experience higher rates of alcohol misuse in general. An escape can quickly become an addiction.”
Today’s Struggle Is Real
Breaking free from these chains can sometimes be easier said than done. Continues Saratoga, “There is a problematic connection between being LGBTQIA+ and drinking with young adults today. This can be attributed to many reasons, but I think primarily it's two things. One: Big Alcohol has thoroughly infiltrated our community and tries its hardest to market booze to the gay community, especially during Pride. The message is that being queer is more fun and authentic with alcohol, which is a very dangerous sentiment. In general, our society doesn't realize how prominent alcohol marketing is and how drinking is encouraged and glamorized at almost every turn. We've become a culture that laughs at binge drinking and the LGBTQIA+ community is not immune to that; in fact, it's worse. The second reason young adults in our community are turning to alcohol is because there aren't many other spaces for LGBTQIA+ people besides bars and drinking-related events. Even Pride events that don't actively center around drinking always have stands to buy beer and cocktails. Young people are being shown in every way that queer equals drunk.”
Alcohol & COVID:
The Undeniable Link
Abby Mazzarella, a host of 1,000 Hours Dry LGBTQIA+ and @thesobergaygriever on Instagram says, “I think a big reason why LGBTQIA+ young adults are turning to alcohol in the era of COVID is isolation. Many people have lost jobs due to the pandemic and have had to move away from their supportive chosen families and back in with their possibly not so supportive or understanding parents/relatives. They're using alcohol to deal with the anxiety that that situation creates. Also, another reason why LGBTQIA+ young adults may be turning to alcohol is habit. Because of the places we feel safest basically being gay bars and clubs, alcohol gives us a sense of comfort and familiarity. Alcohol provides a sense of normalcy.”
A New Resource for LGBTQIA+ Sobriety and Sober Curiosity
Coming hot out of the gates is a breakthrough app called Reframe, which lends a wealth of resources and support for those who struggle with alcohol, or who are sober curious and are simply exploring their relationship with alcohol. Described as “agnostic” by head of business development, Kayla Lyons (@kaylerlyons on Instagram), she says, “However you live, pray, identify, we’ll support you; don’t change who you are. We’ve got you.” Pointing to the alarming effect that alcohol abuse plays in our society, Kayla continues, “Alcohol kills over 100,000 people a year in the US and no one calls it an epidemic.”
The sharp minds behind Reframe are working to combat this epidemic by providing not only research-backed resources, information, and cognitive behavioral tools to encourage mindful drinking, but also subcategorized private group portals members can communicate through, including one for LGBTQIA+ folx. This is a safe space for members to engage and interact, and ultimately learn from and support one another through their often complex journeys with alcohol. Reframe is also offering free bi-weekly support Zoom meetings for the LGBTQIA+ community, and a 7-day free trial to all new users. Says Kayla, “Reframe is going to make a huge difference in the future. Right now it’s an app, but eventually [it will be] a lifestyle.”
How Allies Can Support LGBTQIA+ Healing
When asked how allies can support LGBTQIA+ friends and family, Saratoga says, “Invite your gay friends to do things that aren't centered around alcohol or drinking, make sure there are other drink options for family members at holidays, offer a non-judgmental ear if they want to talk. And remember that the struggles of LGBTQIA+ people are intensely unique to this community; how we heal and recover might look different from others and that's okay. Do not ever try to manage someone's recovery, even if you're coming from a good place.”