Gay and lesbian people struggling with substance abuse can be put off by the religious overtones of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but not all recovery programs take 12 steps or require submitting to a higher power.
The Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service runs a group for recovering alcoholics, drug, sex and gambling addicts based on a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy program called Smart Recovery.
Sue Ivanyi has run the group since it began at the service a little over a year ago and said the combined approach worked because the issues were essentially the same for all types of addiction.
“The groups are run on an open basis, and people can attend or not from week to week as they choose,” she said. “It’s here and now focus, what’s going on for you at the moment in the last week or two.”
The facilitator is there to keep things on track but ideally not as an expert, leaving participants free to share not just the bad days but the good ones as well, so they can learn techniques from each other.
“You’re trying to replace the unhealthy habits with healthy habits,” Ivanyi said.
“It’s a really big thing in the gay community because a lot of socialising happens around alcohol-based venues where drugs are easily available.
“It’s good for everybody to talk about it, because someone mightn’t have a problem but their friends might.”
The hardest part of obtaining treatment was knowing where to look, according to one 40-year-old male group member who sought help for alcoholism.
“It involved a court case that lasted eight months,” he said. “I’d been in denial for years and thought I was in control. Really I wasn’t even in control of me,” he said.
“Friends used to laugh and say where do you put it because I didn’t have a beer gut. A lot of my friends were drinkers, and it’s a big part of the gay scene. It’s what you do. I’m a completely different person now.”
The group meets Mondays, 6pm in the service’s headquarters at 46 Bedford St, Newtown. For information and referral contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 9361 8000. For more information about Smart Recovery visit www.smartrecovery.org.

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