Sex and drugs: Chemsex addiction

Drugs and sex have been combined for centuries, helping people to feel uninhibited and to enhance the experience. There is a distinct difference, however, between drug use which later leads to sexual activity and drug use for the purpose of having sex. The latter is what is referred to as 'chemsex'.

I have seen clients who get lost through chemsex. I mean lost because addiction is at play where the drugs are in control and not the individual. And with chemsex, there is the addiction to the drug and the sex. The consequences of this addiction are profound; losing time off work, breaking contact with friends, only able to have sex using chems (with partner and strangers), mental illness of depression, anxiety and panic attacks, health deterioration and the need to practice a non-authentic life - holding multiple secrets.

Addiction is a feeling of being pulled towards behaviour like sirens calling sailors onto the rocks to wreck the ship. The mind has been high jacked where it seeks to repeat the behaviour at any time it is allowed. What would normally be a Friday night after work with friends, turns into the beginning of a ritual to engage in chemsex once more and this ritual will play out to the eventual come down at the end of the experience. Depression and feelings of not feeling connected to real-life arise. It can be a very personal painful time.

The pull to engage in chemsex is the addiction and fighting these thoughts and feelings is going to be difficult. Some clients can use will power by saying NO every time the pull presents itself and the longer this is done the pull is more likely to fade. The trick is to catch the first thoughts leading to the ritual beginning to engage in chemsex. Any distraction behaviour will help and having a written down plan of what to do when the pull comes will greatly help. Things like call a sponsor friend go out with non-drug using friends, visit the gym, see a film, etc.

This approach does not work for everyone. It is possible to work out if the chemsex behaviour is just a bad habit and this usually can be the case for beginning users. The next stage is a compulsion or the pull when bored to engage in chemsex and the final stage is true addiction where there is a total lack of control.

One approach I use is to seek the values a client wants their life to be about, that is what they want to see in themselves and what they want others to see. Like a personal life epitaph, giving life meaning and pride. The addictive behaviour often contradicts what a client wants their true life to be about.

All addiction is complex and there are many, many stories of where it came from, what it hides, what is robs the user of, what it provides and what life would look like without it. Everyone is different.

Let’s take a look at how our brains work with addiction. With any addiction, our brains create pathways of behaviour. Imagine a highway that the same addictive behaviour travels along. What was once a one-way pathway slowly develops into a 4-lane highway with continual use. The good news is the longer you stop going down this highway, or pathway, the sooner it will diminish in size. If you create alternative things to do, new highways or pathways will develop in your brain and you will be less likely to reinforce the addictive pathway.

One thing is clear though, chemsex can easily become a full-on addiction and if you want to beat it you have a full fight on your hands to get your life back. Talking therapy has a place but for many users finding full-on support services like Antidote in London are the best way to go. Having a sponsor is so helpful as used in AA. Use any support services you can think of. You will need it.

That pull will subside the more you leave the addiction. That known pull is the addiction in control and not you. When that gets really uncomfortable seek help.

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