Jun 13 · 6 min read

by Ryan Cassata

If you are LGBTQ and struggling with drug and alcohol, you are not alone. It’s Pride season, and you may be wondering how you can manage to stay sober throughout all the pride festivities and celebrations.

Over the past few years I have spent a lot of time educating the public about drug and alcohol abuse. It’s an issue that is very close to my heart and I want to help as many as I can by sharing my own experience. Drug and alcohol abuse has personally affected many of my friends that are in the LGBTQ community. I’ve lost many friends to drugs and alcohol too. I also have had my own dark struggles and now have over 5 years sober.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the LGBTQ community is at a much higher risk to abuse drugs and alcohol compared to the cis-gender and heterosexual community. The stress that comes along with being LGBTQ in today’s society causes this increased risk. LGBTQ folks face a disproportionate amount of discrimination in the workplace, at home, when seeking medical treatment, and in most other various life experiences. Also, the risk of experiencing violence and harassment is much higher which causes an increased stress level and an increased urge to escape for many.
My original need to use drugs and alcohol came from not feeling accepted by my family or by my peers at school. As my gender dysphoria grew worse, the need to escape my reality became greater. Having to wait over 4 years for my top surgery, made my life hard to live at the time, it was really hard to see a positive future for myself. I felt a strong urge to escape the immense gender dysphoria I was feeling. I felt the need to escape the feelings of not being accepted and supported. I wanted to escape the feelings of being an outsider or other. As I used more and more, things got darker and darker for me. While drugs and alcohol provided me with a very temporary break from my reality, my depressing feelings and problems were multiplying as I wasn’t properly or healthily dealing with them. For a brief time, drugs and alcohol made my life easier but eventually they made my life harder, and getting sober was also a challenging thing to do.

When I finally did get sober from all substances, I had to deal with my reality. Luckily, I had gotten my top surgery so my gender dysphoria was eased a great deal. I still had to accept who I was though. This took a long time for me. When I finally was able to accept my reality and love myself, I didn’t feel that urge to escape anymore. I felt the urge to experience my life to the fullest.

Staying sober at pride might not be easy for most. They sell alcohol at many pride festivals. People sneak alcohol in. People sneak drugs in. Many big pride festivals welcome a party atmosphere.

My first sober pride was hard to get through but I still had a really great time. I took a sober friend with me to pride. That definitely helped me stay on the sober path. It helped both of us actually. I was performing at Los Angeles Pride the year I got sober. I had only been sober for a couple of months. I was offered a lot of free alcohol and declined all of it. I just kept saying “No, I have to perform” and “No, I don’t drink, I’m sober.” Performing is my job and I no longer wanted to tamper with my performance with drugs and alcohol. I wanted to experience the adrenaline rush of singing to a big crowd and I wanted to meet the people who came to hear me play. I wanted to do my best. I got through the performance and after I got off stage I chose not to hang around backstage any longer. I needed to be away from all of the free alcohol. Removing myself from where the risk of drinking was a bit increased, was an important step for me. I had to make that decision to step away and hang out where there was less free alcohol or less alcohol in general. I also had to make a decision to hang around other sober people instead of people that were partying a lot. Both of these choices helped me to have a great first sober pride experience.

I got to enjoy the rest of the pride festival as a sober person. I let everyone know, who asked to buy me a drink, that I was sober so they would stop asking me. Some people pressured me to drink but I held my ground, closely remembering the friends I had lost and the dark struggles I went through that I never wanted to return to.

I had such a great time that year at pride. I met friends that I still am friends with today. I probably would have never met them or remembered them if I wasn’t sober. I got to do a couple news interviews, I got to perform to lots of people, I got to meet lots of awesome people, and I got to fully experience pride because I was 100% sober.

Now that I have 5 years sober, I am not as affected when I am around alcohol. The temptation to drink or use is gone for me so my anxiety around alcohol has lessened a lot and it’s very easy for me to stay sober at pride. I don’t have any anxiety about relapsing when I’m at pride anymore and I also don’t feel like I am missing out on partying anymore. I feel that I’m living the life I was meant to be living and I get to experience all of it!

Regardless of if you are sober or not, please stay safe at pride this year and every year! Happy Pride everyone!! Have fun!

About the Author:

Ryan Cassata is an award-winning singer-songwriter, actor, performer, writer and LGBTQ activist & motivational speaker based in Los Angeles. With features in Rolling Stone, Billboard Magazine, The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and The Daily News, Ryan has made the most of his young career, which started when he was just 13.

As a musician with over 550 performances touring across the United States and internationally, including dates on the Van’s Warped Tour, SXSW and at the world’s biggest pride festivals, Ryan has been praised by The Advocate saying he’s a “Transgender singing sensation”, Paper Magazine put him on the “50 LGBTQ Musicians You Should Prioritize” list, LOGO put him on the “9 Trans Musicians You Need To Get Into” list and Billboard put him on the “11 Transgender & Non-Binary Musicians You Need to Know” list and premiered his most recent music video for “Daughter.” He has also been heard on Sirius XM Radio, BBC Radio 4 and other radio stations around the world. MORE INFO AT:

Matthew’s Place is a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation| Words by & for LGBTQ+ youth | #EraseHate | Want to contribute? Email

Written by is a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation| Words by & for LGBTQ+ youth | #EraseHate | Want to contribute? Email

Matthew’s Place is a program of the Matthew Shepard Foundation| Words by & for LGBTQ+ youth | #EraseHate | Want to contribute? Email

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