Mon, Nov 10, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Drugs fuel gay lifestyle, report finds

HEDONISTIC CULTURE Gay men take more drugs than straight men, a phenomenon blamed by researchers on the vibrant gay club scene and a need to escape reality

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Young gay men are much more like-ly than straight men to take drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana, according to two studies in Britain and America.

Nearly one-third of men surveyed in the US who had sex with other men said they used drugs at least once a week, and lifetime use of cocaine was nearly twice as high as that of the general age group. Two out of three of the men said that they had used drugs in the previous six months.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, included 3,492 young men aged between 15 and 22.

"The people that we spoke to were in an environment that was surrounded by drugs," said Linda Valleroy, an epidemiologist and one of the report's authors. "There were synchronized epidemics of HIV, drug use and depressive behavior."

New research by the mental health charity Mind showed that the trend is replicated in Britain with drug use consistently higher among gay men and lesbian women.

"The gay scene is bar and club orientated," said Monty Moncrieff, project co-ordinator at Antidote, a drugs service for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. "That is where people go to meet other gay people and there is a lot of cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine and GHB around. It is a hedonistic culture and often the lifestyle and recreational drug use go hand in hand."

Jason, 23, is a gay man living in London who spends most of his weekends partying. On Saturday nights he dances until the early hours among a throng of sweaty bodies and then carries on till the afternoon at one of the city's trendy after-club parties.

He is usually in a haze of euphoria slipping between the highs of ecstasy and cocaine, the surreal nature of ketamine and the lull of marijuana. "We'll do it again on Sunday," he says. "The weekend isn't over until well into Monday."

"It is still a hangover from the ecstasy house music boom which did to some extent start in the gay clubs of London," says David Smith, a senior health promotion officer for gay men.

"It may be because their social life is a very important part of identity -- certainly compared to heterosexuals. Gay men also continue to take drugs for much longer than heterosexuals, long after others have chosen to settle down with a family."

But while much of the drug use is club-related, with recreational drugs being taken as a lifestyle choice, there are concerns that drug use among gay men can be a form of escapism from difficult lives.

"Many people may feel repressed in everyday life," said Moncrieff. "They may have to hide their sexuality in the week."

The study by Mind shows that gay, lesbian and bisexual people are more likely to suffer psychological stress than straight people, with gay men 13 percent more likely to harm themselves and lesbians 6 percent more likely.

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