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Is loneliness what’s fuelling our addiction to chems?

Drug use is generally talked about in terms of addiction. If you seek help for issues relating to your drug use, the starting point is generally how to manage your cravings, or a 12-step programme that guides you towards a life of abstinence.

However, traditional interventions designed to help people minimise the harm from drug use don’t seem to be as effective when applied to the use of chems within our community – particularly when we’re talking about the combination of sex and drugs that we refer to as chemsex.

Controlling Chemsex is a London-based charity that provides free specialist support to people who are struggling with their use of chems.

Ignacio Labayen de Inza founded Controlling Chemsex after his own battles with addiction – he explains that loneliness is often one of the main reasons that guys begin using chems.

“We’re all looking for intimacy, we’re all looking for some kind of connection…” explains Ignacio. “That’s not easy in big cities such as London, and the transactional nature of hook-up apps can exacerbate our feelings of loneliness and isolation.”

“I was using chems as a way to try and hold it all together…” confirms Ismail, reflecting on his addiction to crystal meth. “I was using drugs to feel desired, to feel accepted, to feel part of something.”

“Looking back, those years seem incredibly dark…” says S., reflecting on his years immersed in London’s chemsex scene. “You would end up at other people’s homes, surrounded by other users. There were so many lonely souls, so many lost souls. We see the drugs as a way to find intimacy, to find love, but it’s so damaging.”

“At chill-outs, it’s a sexual environment but sex isn’t happening all of the time…” says Alejandro, sharing his experience. “I talk a lot. I would talk with everyone, hearing their stories. A lot of people are doing chems to escape some sort of trauma, or because they feel lonely or isolated – just to escape everything, I guess. Chems is a way of blocking out that emptiness that we have inside of us.”

“Not only do we feel a sense of fraternity when we’re with other guys, having sex and sharing drugs, but something like crystal meth can make you feel invincible…” explains Ignacio Labayen de Inza of Controlling Chemsex. “It’s the combination of the drugs and the sex that is so intoxicating – you lose all of your inhibitions. You’re not alone, you’re having sex like a porn-star, and all your worries seem to disappear – then your life spirals out of control.”

The chemsex scene seems to rely on hookup apps as the platform that connects the guys and the sex and the drugs, but it’s also the channel through which Controlling Chemsex receives the most requests for support.

“We get guys contacting us from all around the world…” says Ignacio. “Often they just need someone to talk to, to share their problems with. We’ve got a lot of information on our website, and we provide 1-to-1 counselling, but often the most important thing to convey when someone first reaches out to us is that there is help available. It’s not easy to take back control of your life if you’re struggling with your use of chems, but it is possible.”

“It’s a bit of a cliché, but the most important step is to admit that you’ve got a problem and to want to seek help with that…” adds Ignacio. “For many of the guys that we work with, they realise that their underlying issue is a sense of loneliness and isolation. The drugs are a coping mechanism but once you’re in that cycle it can feel almost impossible to find ways to connect with other people, to make connections that don’t involve chems or sex. We help people to navigate through that and get their lives back on track.”

Free and confidential chemsex support is available to help you take back control – contact Controlling Chemsex for one-to-one advice and guidance.

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Eagle Fridays club night at Eagle London gay bar.
Friday night bank holiday queer party at The Divine queer club in London.
Club Tantrum at Dalston Superstore
Cheer Up gay club night at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern
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Klub in Soho Friday night
Desi Pride at Circa LGBTQ+ club
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