Words by Ian Howley | @IanHowley

Breaking news! Some gay men don’t drink alcohol. Shocking, eh? Well maybe not that shocking or exciting, but you’d think the way we carry on that all gay men do is drink alcohol and have lots of random sex.

However for many of the gay men who filled in our ‘Alcohol and the gay community’ survey, alcohol is something that they are just not interested in or have given up. We decided to talk to a few of these men and get their take on alcohol and the gay community.

Why don’t you drink alcohol?

In our ‘Alcohol and the gay community’ survey, 40% of the men who said they don’t drink or gave up alcohol, said they feel pressure from the gay community to drink.

“The number of times I’ve been asked why I don’t drink is crazy,” says Sean, 25 from Glasgow. He adds: “We live in a society that focuses so much of our social norms around alcohol that when someone goes against the norm people don’t know how to interact.” 

“It’s a personal choice as to why I don’t drink. I tend to end up just saying ‘I’m driving’ as it stops nosey intruders!” says Cal, 23 from Newcastle.

Dougles, 56 from Surrey told us: “I just say it makes me very ill, and to be honest at 56 I really can’t handle the six day hangover or even the one day hangover.”

Luke, 24 from Oxford says: “Some people can’t even comprehend a life without alcohol, and don’t understand why some people might not want to drink. They make you feel like you’re abnormal or weird for not drinking, but I think that’s just their projected insecurities about something they know is damaging them.”

We asked all those who responded to the survey as to why they don’t drink: Of the gay men who have never drunk alcohol.

  • 54% said they don’t have any interest in it.
  • 12% said they have seen the impact it has on others and they don’t want it to happen to them.
  • 7% said it was down to alcoholism.
  • 5% said it was down to religious beliefs.
  • 22% cited ‘other reasons’ as why they do not drink, with many stating they just didn’t like the taste of it or citing health reasons.

We asked the gay men who used to drink why they give up alcohol:

“I have a long term health condition which I take medication for, which doesn’t mix well with alcohol”, said James, 25 from London.

“It was getting seriously out of hand and I ended up in in rehab and had pancreatitis”, said TJ, 38 from Sunderland.

Kevin, 57 from Portishead told us: “It was because I realised that I was an alcoholic and I was killing myself.”

Niall, 41 from Bristol said: “Because I relied on two bottles of wine every evening to cope with anxiety and low self-esteem. Eventually it caused great damage to my pancreas, which now affects my life.”

T, 45 from Birmingham said: “I was drinking every evening and getting more and more unwell/depressed. I ended up having a stroke due to the alcohol.”

Ross, 23 from Glasgow told us: “Drinking was a distraction that stopped me from attaining genuine happiness. Drinking also caused me to humiliate myself regularly as I didn’t have enough control to stop after a couple of drinks. It burned up all my money. It gave me horrendous hangovers. I could go on forever.”

The dating game

It’s not uncommon for gay men to use alcohol while playing the dating game. Sometimes it can be easier to pop someone a message on Tinder and say “Let’s go for a drink” rather than try and think of some alternatives.

We asked both the single gay men who don’t drink and the single men who gave up whether or not drinking alcohol affects their dating life.

  • 20% told us that they’ve been rejected for a date once the person found out they didn’t drink alcohol.

Peter, 40 from London told us: “I was left feeling depressed and annoyed after someone told me they wouldn’t go for a date because I didn’t drink alcohol”.

MT, 53 from south east London said: “I didn’t understand the reaction and was hurt by the inference that I was boring and wouldn’t let myself go by getting plastered”

Douglas, 36 from Bedfordshire simply said: “Their loss”.

We asked the same men whether anyone has ever broken up with them because they didn’t drink alcohol:

  • 7% said yes.
  • 87% said no.
  • 5% said they weren’t sure.

Sebastian, 29 from Bolton told us: “I was seeing this guy for about eight months. He knew I wasn’t a big drinker and about six months into us dating I told him that I just didn’t want to drink any more. I told him that I had no problem with him drinking and I’d still go out and stuff, but I just didn’t want to get drunk. He said that was fine but about a month later his attitude changed and he kept on making me feel bad for not drinking. He then made out that I was making him feel bad for drinking – which was not the case. He broke it off with me after eight months and said he needs to be with someone who likes the same things he does.”

Do gay men drink too much?

We asked all the men who filled in our survey whether they thought gay men in general drink too much:

  • 61% said yes.
  • 14% said no.
  • 25% said they didn’t know.

Cal told us: “I feel it’s a heavy drinking culture on the gay scene and that goes along hand in hand with bad decisions, financial struggle and damaged health.”

Stuart, 32 from Glasgow said: “I think that gay men on the scene drink too much and too frequently. I think many believe it will help lower their inhibitions/help them to meet a partner. I also believe that there is peer pressure to drink in excess.”

TJ said: “If you don’t want to use dating apps, pretty much the only way to meet guys and socialise is to go to gay venues, and the scene basically revolves around alcohol. Since I gave up drinking I have stayed away from the scene, but having to use the apps is so much worse. It’s so impersonal and it’s a bit like internet shopping, you can see what you are buying in the picture, but you don’t get a real idea of what it’s like until it arrives in the post, and it’s very easy to be disappointed. But getting back to alcohol, I used to see so many guys who clearly had a problem with alcohol and could never go out without getting shit-faced. This would be numerous times a week, and they would also drink at home.”

Niall told us: “I think British society as a whole normalises heavy drinking. The main difference with gays is that historically there was no point where they settled down, got married, had kids and calmed down their social life.”

And T said: “Gay men like to party hard especially at the weekends. I have a few friends that don’t stop drinking until they fall asleep in the corner or are thrown out for getting into fights or arguments. I have been out on a date and told them I don’t drink any more, and then they take me to a pub and even buy me a drink because they “want me to loosen up”. Sadly I have also seen a friend die due to drink-related illness. They got pancreatic problems and even though they were told to quit drinking alochol they just could not stop drinking or going out to bars and clubs.”

Fun without the alcohol

We asked the men who filled in our survey what they do for fun that doesn’t involve alcohol.

Anonymous, 27 from London said:

“I do rock climbing as a member of an LGBT climbing club. I meet up with friends. I get involved with things I’m interested in like climbing, nature and palaeontology.”

James told us: “I still do everything I used to, but will sometimes suggest coffee over an alcoholic drink when meeting friends. But I have no problems just drinking soft drinks all night if we go out – I just don’t go clubbing any more.”

Jacob, 21 from Yorkshire said: “I go out with friends to the cinema, go bowling, go to restaurants or places like that.”

TJ told us: “I still go out to bars and clubs, but I don’t need alcohol to enjoy myself. I also go for meals or to friends in the evenings. I love movies and have a good bunch of friends who I hang out with who understand I am an alcoholic and they also know it is with you for life. You can never be cured or a recovering alcoholic.”

And finally, Kris, 42 from London simply said: “Anything I want.”   

If you’re concerned about someone’s drinking, or your own, Drinkline runs a free, confidential helpline. Call 0300 123 1110 or visit www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk.

Are you dependent on alcohol?

A glass of wine with dinner, a beer after work, a cocktail in the sunshine on holiday. Alcohol makes an appearance in so many parts of our lives it can be easy to forget that, like many drugs, it’s addictive, both physically and psychologically.

The NHS estimates that around 9% of men in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence. This means that drinking alcohol becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in their lives and they feel they’re unable to function without it.

But if you were ‘dependent’ on alcohol, you’d be stumbling around drunk every day, right? Not necessarily. There are varying degrees of alcohol dependence and they don’t always involve excessive levels of drinking.

If you find that you ‘need’ to share a bottle of wine with your partner most nights of the week, or always go for a few pints after work, just to unwind, you’re likely to be drinking at a level that could affect your long-term health. You could also be becoming dependent on alcohol.

If you find it very difficult to enjoy yourself or relax without having a drink, you could have become psychologically dependent on alcohol. Physical dependence can follow too – that is your body shows withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, when your blood alcohol level falls.

Four warning signs that you may be dependent on alcohol

  • Worrying about where your next drink is coming from and planning social, family and work events around alcohol.
  • Finding you have a compulsive need to drink and finding it hard to stop once you start.
  • Waking up and drinking – or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning.
  • Suffering from withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol.

If you’re worried that you have any of these symptoms of alcohol dependence, talk to your GP or seek further information.

Staying in control - here are four ways you can cut back:

Try alternative ways to deal with stress. Instead of reaching for a beer or glass of wine after a hard day, go for a run, swim or to a yoga class, or talk to a friend about what’s worrying you.

Keep track of what you’re drinking. Your liver can’t tell you if you’re drinking too much, but a special tool from MyDrinkaware can. It can even help you cut down. Take their self-assesment test to see what they say: www.drinkaware.co.uk/selfassessment.

Give alcohol-free days a go. If you drink regularly, your body starts to build up a tolerance to alcohol. This is one of the main reasons why many medical experts recommend taking regular days off from drinking to ensure you don’t become addicted to alcohol. Test out having a break for yourself and see what positive results you notice.

Ask a health professional for advice. Advances in alcohol research have provided new treatment options. A health care professional can look at the number, pattern, and severity of your symptoms, to help you decide the best course of action if needed.

SUPPORT: Antidote at London Friend is the UK’s only LGBT run and targeted drug and alcohol support service. For more information, visit  www.londonfriend.org.uk.