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Gay Men and Substance Dependency

According to the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse(CASA), more than half of individuals that have a substance problem also use or have problems with other substances. And more than one in six of those with a substance problem will have multiple substance disorders.

Studies have also shown that there are strong links between substance use disorders and other addictive behaviours. One survey found that more than 83% of self-professed sex addicts were also dependent on substances such as alcohol or drugs or other behaviours.

It is no secret that promiscuity, alcohol, and drug taking are strongly associated with gay culture, far more so than amongst heterosexuals. Studies reveal that:

Nicotine dependence is five times greater among gay men

Alcohol dependence is nearly three times greater among gay men

Other drug dependence is more than four times greater among gay men

This striking variance between the figures for gay and heterosexual men may seem hard to explain, but when we consider the connection between sexual compulsivity and other substance abuse we begin to get a much clearer picture. Studies that compared the sexual behaviours of heterosexual men to gay men found that:

Sexual compulsivity is more than six times greater among gay men.

Not only do we see a strong link between compulsive sexual behaviours and substance dependency, but also a significantly higher incidence of sexual compulsion among gay men with correlating higher levels of substance use.

It is worth noting that the greatest variance between gay men and heterosexual men is seen in the degree of sexual compulsivity, suggesting that this is the primary addictive behaviour with nicotine, alcohol, and other substance dependencies being secondary. So, to understand the higher incidence of substance abuse we need to understand why sexual compulsivity is so much higher in gay men.

But what exactly is sexual compulsivity?

Compulsive behaviour is that which is beyond the person’s ability to control. So sexual compulsivity is essentially sexual addiction, with sexual addiction being defined as a ‘compulsive participation or engagement in sexual activity, particularly sexual intercourse, despite negative consequences.’

So why should it be that gay men exhibit much higher degrees of sexual compulsivity with the associated substance dependencies?

Psychologist Joseph. J. Nicolosi explains that “Drugs, alcohol, and sex provide immediate relief from internal, shame-based distress. Substance abuse and sexual promiscuity offer temporary relief from emotional emptiness, personal inadequacy and chronic depression. All these serve to distract the person from his fundamental inability to establish authentic emotional attachments. […] In our client population we especially see the use of sexual arousal as a way of prompting oneself out of a depressive state. The homosexually orientated client uses dissociated sexuality (anonymous sexual encounters) to regulate his chronic depression. But sexual behaviour does not address the depressive core.’’

This inability to establish authentic emotional attachments, particularly with other men, lies at the heart of the gay man’s struggles. It is, in fact, the greatest cause of sadness for him, a sadness so deep and unbearable that he will do virtually anything to escape feeling it.

He typically experiences an insatiable need for attention, affection, and approval from other men, which, when not obtained, leaves him feeling unworthy, unlovable, and unwanted. So highly does he prize the approval of other men that when he does not get it the effects to his sense of self can be devastating. He perceives this to be a rejection of who he is at a core level.

Since his own self-value is largely dependent on how much he believes other men value him, he gives power over to these men to determine his worth. He will assume that any perceived rejection from significant males is because of some inherent defect in himself; “He doesn’t want me because I am unlovable, there is something wrong with me.”

He is also inclined to either overvalue or devalue other men, depending on their perceived value in his own eyes. He tends to degrade those he sees as less than himself and idolize those he sees as more than himself. And what makes a man of more or of less value in his eyes is the degree of masculinity he possesses. Many gay men openly express their disdain for ‘fems’ and their strong desire to be with a masculine guy. The gay community even acknowledges how rampant this ‘fem shaming’ is and attempts to denounce the behaviour as cruel and demeaning in the hopes that it can be curbed. But there is a very real reason why most gay men seek a masculine man, that has absolutely nothing to do with the other person but all to do with themselves. And this is because the gay man experiences himself to be lacking in core masculine qualities. On a subconscious level, there is the belief that ‘’I am not like other men’’, particularly heterosexual men, and there is a subconscious drive to seek out sexually men who embody the very qualities and attributes which he feels he lacks. For many gay man sex with a heterosexual man is the golden prize.

The gay man essentially lives in a permanent state of shame with regards to how he perceives himself in relation to other men, which is to say, ‘weak’, and ‘less than’ the man he finds so desirable. The pain of this existence he seeks to mitigate by sexually uniting with his ideal man, to somehow absorb from him what he feels to be lacking in himself.

But masculinity cannot be taken from another man, it can only be learned from another man, and fostered in oneself. And so, this sets in motion a relentless cycle of pursuing ‘the one’, only to realize that “he wasn’t the one because at the end of the day he wasn’t as masculine as I thought he was”, and so the search continues, and thus the compulsive nature of his sexual encounters.

It is this drive to complete his sense of self as a man that underlies his constant need for male attention, affection, and approval. However, instead of seeking to develop his sense of himself as a man by developing healthy emotional attachments to other men, he falls into the cycle of sexual compulsion, which only further increases his sense of shame and isolation, due to the impersonal nature and inherent disappointment of these encounters.

This maladaptive behaviour is the cry of a man with deep pain at his core, doing what he believes will alleviate that pain, yet succeeding only in deepening it. It is the precarious path of all those who find themselves in the grips of dependency to behaviours and substances.

Sean Redpath is a contributing writer for Anova Health Institute.  These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.


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