Struggling with chems and chemsex? There is help.

controlling chems chemsex

New data released by Controlling Chemsex provides some compelling insights into the impacts of the use of chems on our LGBTQ community in London. But the data also highlights some alarming gaps in who is able to access help when needed.

The London-based charity has released a report that analyses the support that it has provided to just over 200 clients in the past 12 months.

Unsurprisingly, the data confirms that Crystal Meth is the drug that is wreaking havoc on our community – 96% of people that have accessed support through Controlling Chemsex reported that they are using Crystal Meth, often combining it with other drugs such as GHB.

The frequency of drug use by those experiencing issues with chems also won’t come as a surprise to health professionals. Almost 60% of people that have accessed support through Controlling Chemsex reported that they are using chems at least once a week. 15% of people reported that they are using chems on a daily basis.

Where the data starts to paint an alarming picture is when we look at the ethnicity of people that are accessing support through Controlling Chemsex. 66% of the charity’s clients identified as White – when we compare that to the ethnicity data captured by the 2021 census, that suggests that chemsex is something that predominantly impacts white men, or there is an ethnicity bias in access to services.

The age of people accessing services through Controlling Chemsex also raises some questions. 80% of the charity’s clients were aged between 25-44.

controlling chemsex and chems

“This data provides a snapshot of our work over the past 12 months, but it doesn’t give us the full picture of the damage that chemsex is doing to our community…” explains Ignacio Labayen de Inza – founder of Controlling Chemsex. “We tend to see those men that are regularly engaging with sexual health services – that’s consistent with the age and ethnicity reflected in this data. What’s clear to me is that we need to work harder at reaching the entire community – we need to increase our resources and our visibility to ensure that anyone who is struggling with chems knows that they can come to us for help.”

“One of the other insights of this data that really stands out for me is that 45% of people who came to us had never had any previous help or interventions to try and tackle the harm caused by their drug use…” adds Labayen de Inza. “Of those people, 28% told us that the reason that they hadn’t previously sought any help was because they didn’t know that help was available or couldn’t access help where they lived.”

“Friends and loved ones can play a really important role in helping someone who is struggling with chems…” explains Matthew Mitcham – an ambassador for Controlling Chemsex. “You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, but if you’re worried about someone and you think chems might be the problem, keep the communication open – let them know that you’re on their side, listen and be supportive. Direct confrontations and arguments are counter-productive. Avoid being judgmental. You also need to set some boundaries for yourself – supporting someone who has issues with chems is an emotional roller-coaster.”

What is chemsex?

‘Chemsex’ is the term used to describe sexual activity between people who have taken specific drugs (chems) including crystal methamphetamine, mephedrone, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) or gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL) – these drugs can enable an enhanced sexual experience but they are highly addictive and come with significant health risks.

What are the risks associated with chemsex?

● Physical health: Accidents and injuries, nutritional issues, lungs and heart diseases, dental problems, disrupted sleeping patterns.

● Mental health: High levels of depression, anxiety, or psychotic episodes such as paranoia or hallucinations.

● Emotional health: Issues such as isolation, domestic and relationship issues, low self-esteem or inability to focus or make decisions.

● Sexual health: High risks of transmissions and infections of HIV, HEP-C and other Sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhoea. Chemsex users are also at risk of poor adherence to HIV medication – potentially jeopardising their Undetectable status.

● Financial issues and unemployment.

● Personal safety: such as overdoses, sexual assault, theft, or self-harm.

● Legal issues – buying, selling, possessing and selling these drugs is illegal.

Tips on how to control your chems use.

● Review your bio details on hook-up apps. Be explicit that you’re not interested in chems and limit the amount of temptation that comes your way.

● Set limits on your use of hook-up apps. We’re at our most vulnerable when we’re searching for intimacy – particularly when it’s late at night and we’re feeling alone and isolated. If you’ve set yourself a rule that you’re not going to look at hook-up apps after 10 PM, have a plan for other things you can do if you’re awake and can’t sleep. It could be as simple as having some good porn on standby so you can masturbate and get the horniness out of your system.

● Don’t forget that if you think it could be helpful you can disable your phone to block downloading and use of apps or websites with specific content (sexual, gambling, etc) using parental controls. You can find out how to do this by Googling ‘parental control iPhone’ or ‘apps parental control for Android’, or also downloading specific apps for this purpose, and prevent the cycle of deleting and downloading the apps.

● Know your triggers.The biggest risk of a relapse often comes from friends or fuck-buddies that we’ve had good times with in the past. Odds are, you’re going to get an unexpected WhatsApp message asking if you’re up for some fun. Knowing that this trigger is going to present itself, have your coping mechanism ready to go – have a “no thanks” reply saved in your drafts, have someone lined up who you can call, have some porn ready to watch.

● Keep a clear head. We tend to make poor choices when we’ve got a few drinks under our belt. Try and minimise your alcohol intake.

● Keep yourself busy. If we’re feeling isolated and alone, and it feels like there’s nothing to do, then a chemsex session will seem increasingly appealing. Set yourself a list of tasks for the day. It could be as simple as reorganising your sock draw or as complicated as making some fresh pasta. There’s always something to do, if you set your mind to it.

● If you do have a relapse, don’t beat yourself up too much. Slip-ups happen. Activate your support network and learn from it.

For more information

Issues with Chemsex, Porn, Online Addiction?



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