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Drug Abuse

its pervasiveness in queer culture

Joseph Marsh
Joseph Marsh

Gay, Writer, Poet, Hobbyist

Table of Contents

Dancing, drugs, more drugs...

Drug abuse is endemic in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Whether it be alcohol abuse and binge drinking or the illicit consumption of hard drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, or, heroin, many members of our community have first-hand experience struggling with addiction. 

Drug use among the LGBTQ+ community is consistently higher than our heterosexual counterparts regardless of age group and gender.

According to London Friend, drug use among ‘gay and bisexual men is three times higher (33%) than use amongst heterosexual men (11.1%). For lesbian and bisexual women use is more than four times as high (22.9%) than for heterosexual women (5.1%)

LGBTQ+ people are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a substance abuse disorder as straight people. 

The most common drugs within the queer community continue to be weed, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, and  crystal meth.

33 gay and bi men use drugs 1

Why is it so common?

Often, these higher rates of substance abuse can be linked to the impact of deep subconscious stresses that we experience. 

This is something many of us will understand simply by being part of the community. However, as an illustration of the issue, Valentine and Maund noted in their 2016 study that half of their transgender respondents linked their substance abuse with the stressors of being transgender. 

Combine that with our community being stigmatised and discriminated against when accessing substance abuse resources, it only serves to exacerbate the issue; when presented with two struggles we often choose whichever’s easier, even if it destroys us.

As well as the discrimination we face, we can also feel pressured into substance abuse from our own community. It’s no secret that a lot of queer ‘initiation’ surrounds heavy alcohol abuse. Our first trip to a gay club can often be a transformative moment as the first space where we feel free to be openly and genuinely queer. This liberating moment can often be marred by the ugly truth that entering comes with the expectation to drink heavily, and lose control. 

There is even pressure among the older generations of our community, which further contributes to the high rate of abuse. For decades, drugs and Queer Culture have become almost synonymous in the zeitgeist.

Even with growing acceptance, most mainstream media that engages with LGBTQ+ topics highlight that ‘Gay Clubs are the best clubs’, or ‘Pride is so fun.’ Our straight friends remark ‘gays can get the best drugs‘ and that ‘we’re always up for a party‘. This brings an expectation for substance abuse which gets forced onto our younger generations. 

when presented with two struggles, we often choose whichever’s easier. even if it destroys us.

The prevalence of self-destructive practices like Chemsex show how much drug abuse has become a part of our culture – cultivating the idea that we can take drugs to make sex more enjoyable.

It begs the question, why must we take dangerous and harmful drugs to make an already beautiful and pleasurable act marginally better? 

Don't break social norms

Many times we fall into the trap of doing things a certain way because it’s the way it’s been done. We’re not taught to ask ourselves ‘is this something I want to do?

We know better than anyone as a community how difficult it can be to break social norms; many of us have to do it when first coming out, and the thought of doing it all again in our new community can be too much. It is easier to have another drink or take a few pills than rock the boat.

While things have gotten better for our community, there remain woefully few LGBTQ+ venues that don’t centre around alcohol. It means that when we enter the queer world, we have to go to clubs and bars to engage in our community. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that to take part in the community we must drink, take drugs, and party and in a community where isolation is rife, it’s easy to see how this can blindly lead to a culture of substance abuse.

The dangers of drug abuse

Since alcohol and drugs are so common in the community, it can be difficult stopping ourselves from being sucked into the lifestyle. Peer pressure is as potent a drug as any. 

Since so many queer people grow up with fears of isolation, we often stay out far longer than we should, because we dread the inevitable comedown at home. Or we worry about rocking the boat and ruining the fun by refusing to have that one more drink. 

How many times do we get called boring for wanting to stop drinking?

With this, comes the danger of our fun developing into a dependency. 

We may take drugs to help us deal with our pain. 

Yet rather unfortunately, the more drugs we take, the less effective they are, and so we take more drugs as a result. 

It fast becomes a dangerous cycle, because while one pill may not have too high a risk of adverse side effects, consistent drug use runs the risk of addiction, overdose, and mental health issues.

Drug use and mental health

Fact, drug use will affect your mental health.

There is a plethora of ways that regular substance abuse can do so:

  • Regular cannabis abuse can lead to increased risk in anxiety or depression
  • There is also a link between the use of strong cannabis and the development of schizophrenia and psychosis
  • Stimulant drugs can bring feelings of depression, anxiety, and paranoia
  • Cocaine can trigger previous mental health problems, anxiety, schizophrenia, and psychosis
  • Ecstasy can cause memory problems
  • The use of hallucinogenic drugs can worsen existing mental health issues

There are also dangers of mixing drugs especially with alcohol or if you take medication., these potent mixtures can kill and should not be treated lightly.

Any form of drug use, including alcohol and prescription drugs, can affect your mental health in myriad ways.

Drug addiction

Addiction can ruin lives if left untreated. 

When we develop a dependency on a substance, we run the risk of becoming so dependent that we will neglect our relationships and responsibilities in pursuit of the next high. This can lead to isolation as our friends and families can no longer bear to see us so dependent on the drug and our work life suffers from it. 

Ironically, this compounds the same feelings of isolation that we may be  drinking or taking drugs to avoid. 

These patterns can push us further into a destructive cycle of drug pr alcohol abuse to relieve the pain.

Looking for the signs

Just like your ex with all the red flags that you couldn’t see because you were so in love, it can be hard to spot the signs of addiction from the inside. It may be that we feel so confident we would never get to that point that we fail to realise that we’re already there. 

We might say we can stop when we want, but addiction is a beast that we should not treat lightly. 

Seeking help is a crucial and often difficult help on the road to recovery from addiction, but before we can take this step we need to be able to see that we are addicted. It’s therefore important to know the signs of addiction, so we can better protect ourselves and those around us.

While the signs and symptoms of addiction varies from person to person, there are some common ones that we can look out for. 

These are:

  • Mood swings
  • Increased temper
  • Fatigue
  • Paranoia
  • Defensiveness
  • Agitation
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Poor judgement
  • Memory problems
  • Diminishes self-esteem and self-worth
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Exacerbation of existing mental health conditions
  • Secretive or dishonest behaviour
  • Poor performance/ attendance at work or school
  • Losing interest in activities, hobbies or events that were once important to you
  • Continuing to use the substance, or engage in certain behaviours, despite the negative consequences that these cause
  • Trying but failing to reduce or stop misusing a substance, or engaging in certain behaviours
  • Lack of concern over physical appearance/ personal hygiene
  • Disrupted sleep patterns, including insomnia

Taking steps to address drug addiction

It’s all well and good to know the signs to look out for, but that knowledge is useless if we don’t know how to break the cycle. While beating an addiction is far from easy, there are some steps we can take to make it easier for us. 

Here’s an outline of the kind of process we might have to take to beat addiction:

  • Decide to change – The key of this stage is actually the decision to beat our addiction. At this point we may still be in denial of our addiction or, if we are aware, ambivalent to the fact. By making the decision to change it means that you are acknowledging that you have a problem and that there is a need to fix it. Once you have decided to change, then you can start to think about what the change will look like for you.
  • Prepare to change – Once you’ve decided to change and figured out what that change looks like, you may need to prepare before any real headway is made. This can be the removal of paraphernalia involving your addiction and any triggers. You may also have to change your routine to avoid contact with people who may trigger your addiction. Preparation can also include gathering the resources you need to achieve your goals
  • Seek social support – When overcoming addiction, our friends and family can be just as vital as the actual act of seeking support. Some of our relationships may center around addictive behaviours. In these cases it’s important to set strong boundaries. It can be helpful to join groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to create new relationships that can support us in our journey. It can also be good to speak to the friends and family we engage in substance abuse with to let them know of our decision. They may disappoint you or they may surprise you. Either way it’s good to let them know how they can support you, even if it means taking a break from the friendship for a while.
  • Reach out to Healthcare Providers – Speaking to a doctor or local addiction centre can be extremely helpful in our journey to recovery. These can provide expert medical advice and information that can help us deal with and overcome the challenges that come with breaking an addiction. In some cases we may need medical supervision as we go through withdrawal as the symptoms can be harrowing and it may make existing mental health issues more difficult.

Where to get support

You can find professional support to help break an addiction through your local GP. There is also information of private drug and alcohol treatment centres on the Adfam website. 

Sometimes counselling can be a benefit when breaking an addiction. Have a look through our database of counsellors and therapists to find support locally or online.

Unsafe usage


This is when we have sex while under the influence of drugs. This is an extremely popular practise amongst the queer community and can be done because we feel that the drugs enhance our pleasure. There are, however, serious risks to this practice. For more information read our resources on Chemsex here.


All drugs can become addictive, though some are more addictive than others. With prolonged use, we can become dependent on the good feelings that the various highs bring and thus an addiction forms. If you think you may have become addicted to a drug(s), we recommend reading our article here on Drug Addiction.


Not all drug use is consensual. 

It’s an unfortunate truth that spiking is a frighteningly common occurrence, especially in clubs where a lot of these drugs are taken. It is becoming increasingly difficult to prevent spiking as the tactics become more complex and harder to defend against. 

If you feel like you may have been spiked, it’s important to speak to authorities as soon as possible. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to the police then these resources can still be useful:

Organisations are there to help find you the right support mechanisms, and help you make the first steps toward discussing such problems openly and in confidence.

Unfortunately, in our society where there is so much shame and stigma attached to the idea of being addicted to something, this can be extremely difficult. Throughout our media, education, and public perception, addiction is treated as an awful affliction that is too disgusting to talk about. This messaging, much like the messages our community faces everyday about ourselves, can be very easy to internalise and lead to deepening feelings of shame and an unwillingness to talk. 

It can be very difficult to break this conditioning but what’s important is to remember that your loved ones love you for a reason, they want to see you thrive. Therefore, while it may be scary to open up to others about addiction, it is important because our loved ones can be the crutch that help us on the road to recovery, and out of the darkness.

Support available if you think you're addicted to drugs

If you have come to the realisation that you may need support in recovering from addiction, one of the best resources you can access is the NHS. 

Below is just some of the routes available to you:

  • speaking with your GP who will signpost you to relevant organisations
  • access support and advice through your local sexual health clinic (further resources below)
  • find your local drug treatment service through the NHS here

You can also search our directory of counsellors and therapists.

Support available if you think you've been raped

If you think you might have been spiked and raped, or raped while under the influence of drugs, the first people you contact should be the police. 

Many LGBTQ+ people don’t feel comfortable approaching the police, or think they won’t be taken seriously, but the authorities cannot try to find and charge the
perpetrator if it is not reported.

The police will also ensure you get the right support from the NHS, including all sexual health tests.

Should not be comfortable going to the police, we strongly urge you to visit your local sexual health clinic as soon as you can. Staff at these clinics are well trained on LGBTQ+ culture, and sexual health, and trained on supporting people who may have been raped.

Below is some of the major sexual health clinics across the UK.

Major sexual health clinics across the UK

In Manchester, the MRI clinic offers integrated sexual and reproductive health services across the city of Manchester and the boroughs of Stockport, Tameside and Trafford. The service also provides easily accessible clinical advice and support to a range of health professionals including GPs, practice nurses, pharmacists, and other contraception, sexual health and HIV teams across Greater Manchester. 

The Hathersage Centre, the main hub of the service, co-ordinates postgraduate training for health professionals from across the Northwest.

In London, 56 Dean Street is an excellent sexual health clinic with a slew of resources dedicated to helping members of the LGBTQ+ community remain sexually healthy.

In Glasgow, Men who have sex with Men can find expert and understanding sexual health advice at the Sandyford Sexual Health Service.

In Edinburgh, the Gay Men’s Clinic is open at Lothian Sexual Health.

In Cardiff, the City Clinic has a specialist sexual health service for men who have sex with men to provide full sexual screenings and advice

In Northern Ireland, The Rainbow Project works hard to provide inclusive sexual health resources.

These include clinics at the Belfast LGBT Centre and the Belfast Trans Centre as well as in Foyle LGBT in Londonderry/Derry.

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