The rate of alcoholism and drug abuse among homosexuals may be three times as high as it is for heterosexuals, according to figures from the National Lesbian and Gay Health Foundation.

It is estimated that three out of 10 gay men or lesbians have a drinking or drug problem, compared with an estimate of one in 10 heterosexuals.

Fraelean Curtis, a clinical social worker in Boston and president of the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Alcoholism Professionals, said lesbians are at even greater risk of substance abuse than gay men because they also must deal with sexism in a society that tends to devalue women.

Many homosexuals may turn to alcohol or drugs because they suffer from "diminished self-esteem and impaired sense of self-worth," said Don Wert, executive director of the Pride Institute in Minnesota, an in-patient substance abuse center that treats homosexuals.

"That's not unlike other marginalized social groups," Wert said. "Among native Americans and in black and Hispanic communities, you tend to see the same overrepresentation of addiction."

In the case of gays, overcoming substance abuse can be more difficult, Wert said. "Ordinarily, clients {who} are recovering from alcohol and drugs tend to feel better about themselves," he said. "But for lesbian and gay clients, you're taking away their anesthesia, and they are feeling . . . more strongly than ever their sense of not being okay, of being alien in their own communities, schools, churches and homes."

"The difference in treatment for lesbians and gay people is that part of their recovery means examining, understanding, affirming and ultimately celebrating their sexuality," Wert said.