It makes sense why alcohol is so prevalent in the LGBTQ community; after all, the beginning of the modern gay civil rights movement started in a bar — the Stonewall Inn. But LGBTQ people are more susceptible to alcoholism than straight people: One estimate says that 25% of LGBTQ people abuse alcohol compared to just 5 or 10% of the general population. And, unfortunately, a major cause of this is social anxiety drinking.
“The LGBTQ community is a marginalized group that has disproportionate levels of shame and feelings of inadequacy because we grew up in a world that told us we weren’t normal and something’s off or broken,” says Matthew Dempsey, a licensed professional clinical counselor with a popular YouTube channel covering topics such as slut-shaming, racism and body image.
“[It’s] so not true,” he continues, “but also it’s a social reality and we internalize those messages. Anytime we deny that, we push the shame further down and need more substances to help us open up so we can meet the natural human need to connect.”
Alcohol can help lower inhibitions and the feelings of shame and inadequacy that keep us from feeling more confident when we’re putting ourselves out there, Dempsey says.
All is not lost, however. Dempsey suggests taking these three tips to heart to help keep you from depending on alcohol to overcome your social anxiety.
1. Normalize Fears
“Everyone experiences some social angst. It’s normal to feel some discomfort around a lot of people — especially people you don’t know. Humans have a natural aversion to anything unknown. So keep in mind you’re normal and not alone,” Dempsey says.
2. Identify Fears
“A big part of our social fears come from feeling like we’re not cute enough, smart enough, funny enough … (fill-in-the-blank) enough,” Dempsey says. “Though irrational, shame and feelings of inadequacy are common fears for everybody. When you know what your particular brand of ‘not enough’ is, then you can consciously be aware of the false narrative. Then you can begin to consciously rewrite that script.”
3. Activate Change
“Take what you now are more conscious of as irrational and get your ass out there anyway,” Dempsey says. “Experiment with waiting at least 30 minutes before grabbing a drink. If you’re still that uncomfortable, then have one. At least you’re trying something new and maybe you’ll surprise yourself with how comfortable you can get on your own first.”
“Any alcohol or drug is neutral in reality, not good or bad,” he continues. “The intention and practice behind its use is what can be problematic. Drink too much, too frequently and never give yourself a chance to push through some social fears and prove you’re just fine … then we’ve probably got some problems on our hands. Time to make an appointment with me.”