Drinking alcohol can be part of having fun and socialising within the LGBT community, with the majority of our 'safe spaces' tending to be in bars and clubs on the gay scene. This can be fun for most whereby alcohol enhances the experiences of relaxing and spending times with others. For some however, alcohol can be used to reduce the anxieties that may arise from mixing with others, while for others it can lead to problematic drinking habits, which impact on health, work, and relationships. International research in fact suggests that LGBT people are 2-3 times more likely than heterosexual people to suffer from alcohol dependency.
If you feel that your alcohol use is impacting negatively on your life, it may be time to think about either reducing the amount you drink, or to have a look at other harm reduction solutions that may support you. You can check out our advice below, or come and see us for a chat to discuss your alcohol use. We offer advice and support for whatever goals you decide. You can access a list of our services here.
DRINKING AT HOME
This type of drinking is very often about numbing the unpleasant emotions associated with loneliness or isolation. It can also be about the dread of lying in bed before sleep with no distractions, alone with our thoughts which for many can be an unpleasant experience. We become convinced we need the alcohol to sleep. Sometimes it can simply be the case of a relaxing habit turning into a physical dependency.
Social anxiety can be another reason we drink: walking into a bar you may feel you need courage to approach someone new, you need a way to handle your fear of rejection or anxiety about sex and intimacy. Many feel that they can be themselves when they drink, while others find alcohol a way to block out disturbing memories or thoughts. Or perhaps it is less complicated than that and simply about keeping up with our friends, or having fun and not being aware of how much you are consuming. But before long, drinking can affect our work, sleep, relationships and responsibilities.
Knowing how to have fun safely can be a learned skill. Being embarrassed about your behaviour or not being able to remember the night before, getting into arguments, or having risky sexual encounters, can all be avoided if you re-learn some drinking behaviour.
Often counselling can help to address underlying issues and can equip us better to handle certain issues without needing a drink to do so.
Alcohol is a highly addictive substance when used in these ways. That means that stopping or cutting back can be distressing and even physically dangerous. A medically supervised Detox may be required. But don’t panic. Getting some support in making these decisions is crucial. The Antidote team can guide you through these decisions – you are not alone.
First off it is good to understand how much you usually drink. To do that we need to understand what a ‘unit’ of alcohol is. This is the measurement that helps you compare different drinks and count how much you have.
A unit is smaller than you think! A half pint of regular-strength beer or cider (4% alcohol) is about one unit, so if you have a pint then that is two units. Stronger beer or cider will have a higher unit count, so a pint of premium lager at 5% alcohol will be almost 3 units. They add up quickly, eh?
A single measure of spirits (25ml at 40% alcohol) is also one unit, but pub measures are sometimes bigger – 35ml – or come as doubles unless you ask for a single. Check when you order, as a 70ml double is almost a triple 25ml measure. If you pour your own at home it’s likely you’ll pour a much larger amount than you’d get in pub so count it accurately!
The units in wine catch many people out. A standard pub glass of wine (175ml at around 12% alcohol) is just over 2 units. Ask for a large glass (250ml) and it will be 3 units. If you have three large glasses that is actually a whole bottle (about 9 units). It is really easy to drink more with wine than you plan to, but having a soft drink between glasses can be helpful to slow down.
LOWER-RISK DRINKING GUIDELINES
In August 2016 the UK Government announced an update to drinking guidelines. This takes into account new evidence on the increased risks of several cancers from alcohol. Previously guidelines differed for men and women but now levels are the same.
The current guidelines on lower-risk drinking for people who drink regularly (most weeks) state:
- To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.
- If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days. If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risks of death from long term illness and from accidents and injuries.
- The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis.
- If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.
You can read more about units on the NHS Choices website.
ALCOHOL HARM REDUCTION TIPS
Keep a Drink Diary so you can see your overall pattern of drinking. If you can remember your drinking from last week, you will have an idea of whether you are drinking too much. You should also be able to understand some of the situations you drink excessively in. Tell other people you are cutting down – it is easier to stick to decisions when others know what they are.
Choose a similar drink to your usual, but one that is weaker e.g. choose a regular strength lager rather than super strength. Replace some of your alcoholic drinks with a low alcohol drink or non-alcoholic drink (a ‘spacer’ rather than a ‘chaser’). Start drinking later in the day/evening, and take a smaller amount of money out to a drinking session, so you cannot afford so many drinks. Drink alcoholic beverages more slowly, take smaller sips and put your glass down between sips.
Try not to finish your drink before others finish theirs, and make your first drink a non-alcoholic one, particularly if you are thirsty. Avoid ‘rounds’ when drinking in pubs/clubs and try to have at least two alcohol free days a week. Decide on a limit for any drinking occasion, for example 5 units – be realistic, and keep a supply of non-alcoholic drinks at home. If you are anticipating a heavy evening, avoid drinking on an empty stomach and do not drive.
You may find it difficult to reduce your intake of alcohol around certain people – changing your drinking pattern may require you to steer clear of them for a short time, at least until you feel confident of coping with their demands for you to drink heavily.
Antidote helpline: Contact us to discuss your drug or alcohol issues on 020 7833 1674 (10am-6pm, Monday to Friday). Ask for someone from the Antidote Team.