First steps: assessing your crystal use and reducing your sexual and other health risks
The first step to assessing your crystal use is to check-in with your feelings. If your crystal use leaves you feeling powerless or overwhelmed, and if you find yourself using again to relieve those feelings, you might enter a negative cycle that can really affect your mood, your self-esteem, and your ability to regulate your emotions without crystal or other substances. This is why being in-tune with our feelings is vital, as it helps us find the reasons why we are using and the motivations we have to use. HIM can support you by providing the safe space to explore your relationship with crystal and the reasons behind your use.
Taking control of your crystal use
When you’re aware of how and why you use crysal, including your feelings and your reasons and motivations to do it, you can use that knowledge to make choices in your own best interest. For example, you can think of ways in which you want to keep yourself safer when you use by creating a list of things you want to do/have with you to be prepared to use and having sex. (include examples). Or, you might work on developing a plan to keep your crystal use in check. You might start by not using crystal to feel better after an intense weekend. Our colleague David Stuart at 56 Dean Street in London calls this “paying the price.” This means that if you feel a little rough after using crystal over the weekend, you avoid the temptation to use- even if it would make you feel better. By “paying the price” of a rough sober day (or several), you can really reduce the risk of developing a more problematic relationship with crysal- like using every day, or starting to use in non-sexual situations or just to function in daily life. Taking control could also be switiching from one way of using crystal to another- slamming is a more intense high, but for some guys can cause paranoia and make comedowns hard. Taking control might be choosing to smoke crystal instead of slam to help you better manage your high and your comedown. You can talk to HIM to help you identify strategies to help you take more control of your crystal use- including a plan to take a break, or tools to help you switch from slamming to smoking (including free pipes).
Negotiating safer sex
Being assertive with your desires, limits, and safer sex methods during sex can help prevent STI and HIV transmission, keep you safer and increase your sexual satisfaction. It is important to try to do this when you are sober, as it is more likely that we will evaluate risks accurately and take the appropriate measures. Sometimes our sex partners sahre our same sexual desires, or preferred sexual health tools. So, sometimes we may need to negotiate. Talk to your partner(s) before having sex and using crystal. Safer sex is something you should treat like a reasonable request- whether you are making it or whether someone is requesting it of you. For example, if you want to play safer when you are going to use crystal and play with multiple partners, you might communicate it by saying what you want, the reason, and proposing a method (for example: “I want to parTy and fuck various guys, and to keep it as safe as possible, so we should use condoms” or “I like PnP, and I like group play, and I like using PrEP to prevent HIV”). HIM staff and the Health Promotion Case Management team can help you identify safer sex practices to be prepared when having sex and using drugs, as well as the negotiable and non-negotiable practices you’d like to have.
Reducing your crystal use
When guys combine crystal and sex, both can become compulsive habits that don’t feel as fun as they once did. For some guys, combining crystal and sex can make them link their sexuality and sex life more with negatives (concerns over sexual risks you might have taken, rejection, paranoia, STI or HIV transmission) than pleasure. For some, crystal use can progress from an occasional activity to a regular one, one that starts to impact relationships, work, or health (sexual, physical, and mental / emotional). HIM is here for you, and can help you prepare for taking a break from crystal and sex. Together, we can work on a care plan that will help you set some goals for your crystal use. For some guys, that might be using less often, or taking a temporary break; for other guys, it might be working to attain long term sobriety. Remember that satisfaction, pleasure, and connection in your sex life is a reasonable goal- whether you use crystal or don’t.
Taking a break from crystal
Working with HIM and a Health Promotion Case Manager, we will develop a care plan that will help you set some goals for your crystal use and sex life. If the idea of taking a break feels overwhelming, know that our goal is to develop a care plan that works for YOU. Some guys might want to start by taking a break for a few days or a week; some guys might want to try taking a break for longer- like a month or even more. Together, we will help you create a list of activities and supports that can help you refrain from using crystal during your break, and will set up an appointment schedule for regular check-ins, support, and followup. Are you interested in working with HIM and a Health Promotion Case Manager to create a care plan? You can write us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at: 604.488.1001, ext. 224
Taking a break from sex
For gay guys who parTy, crystal can be tied pretty closely to our sex lives. Crystal can make guys feel more confident, more attractive, and can even increase our stamina in the sack. So, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that crystal and sex can get pretty wrapped up in one another. For some guys, taking a break from crystal can be complicated when this happens- having sex, or even just getting on dating sites or hookup apps can trigger desires to use crystal, because the two activities might be associated with each other. If you find that your crystal use has progressed to the point that you want to take a break, you may want to consider also taking a break from sex (and sometimes apps- see below). Just like taking a break from crystal, taking a break from sex will look different for everyone. Some guys might want to explore different types of sex, but not take a break from sex completely (like having sex with a fuck buddy, but avoiding group sex events). Some guys might find that it’s easier to go all the way in (ha) and delete hookup apps and avoid all sexual contact during their break. Just like taking a break from crystal, HIM and the Health Promotion Case Management team can work with you to integrate your sexual needs, wants, and desires into your personal care plan.
Maybe you’ve taken a break, or gone to treatment, and are interested in long-term sobriety. Congratulations on choosing this step for yourself- it’s a big one, and takes time and effort. Whether you’re newly sober or have been sober for a long time, HIM and the Health Promotion Case Management team can help provide some 1×1 support to help you set goals for sobriety, maintain sobriety, or reattain sobriety after a relapse (hey- they happen). We can also provide referrals to outside support groups, as well as other in-house support services that can help you maintain your desired level of sobriety.
If your crystal use has progressed to the point that you aren’t able to take a break, even with the support of HIM staff or the Health Promotion Case Management team, you may benefit from professional treatment for substance use, and be more successful in achieving or maintaining sobriety. Additionally, professional substance use treatment can offer specialized care for withdrawals, sleep disorders, psychosis, and other physical and mental health conditions associated with chronic or heavy crystal use. Vancouver Coastal Health’s Vancouver Addictions Matrix Program (VAMP) provides a 16-week outpatient alcohol and drug treatment program, and is covered through your MSP. Day/evening programs offer group treatment, along with individual counselling. VAMP offers one program stream specifically for gay/bisexual/queer men, and a coed program stream for individuals of all orientations. Transgender people are welcome in the stream which they feel suits them best. Self-referrals accepted. Serves residents of the North Shore (including Pemberton and the Sunshine Coast), Richmond, and Vancouver. Program operates mainly on Tuesday and Friday afternoons, and Wednesday evenings. Information on VAMP, including referral info, eligibility, and contact information, can be found HERE.
Hookup apps & online dating
For some guys, crystal, sex, and hookup apps interact in ways we’re just beginning to understand. It might stem from your brain’s “feel good” chemicals, and the ways that crystal, sex, and online technology can all trigger these chemicals- dopamine especially. It’s possible that when combined, they may act even more potently together than they would individually. We also know that dating and hookup sites and apps just increase the availability of both sex and crystal. Get on any hookup site for gay guys and you’ll probably see profiles that reference crystal or parTying; you might also find guys contacting you asking if you’re into PnP. For guys who don’t use crystal, or who don’t have any issues with their crystal use, these references may not bother them very much. On the other hand, though, if you find yourself struggling with the impacts of your crystal use, or using more frequently than you like, or if you’re on a break or sober, these references can trigger a desire to use. This doesn’t mean that you’re weak, or going to use, it just means you’re human, and that you’ve been exposed to something that you might have really complex associations with. You might not like the way it feels coming down off crystal, but you might like the way sex feels when you’re on it. Again, this doesn’t make you flawed; this makes you human. Crystal is one of many things that we can come to associate with pleasure (sex is another; even food does this!). The important thing to remember is that if your crystal use has prompted you to take a break, do as many things as you can to build in support. We already talked about taking a break from sex; you might find that temporarily deleting or disabling dating and hookup apps can be helpful in supporting you in taking a break from crystal and sex. We know that dating and hookup apps are a part of modern gay life, and in ways they’ve replaced bars and changed the ways gay guys communicate. Only you can decide if deleting or disabling apps is something you’d like to try; we just know that one great way to start a break from crystal is to remove as many sources of temptation as you can while you’re on your break, and to work on a plan (by yourself or with a Health Promotion Case Manager) to navigate these apps when you’re back from your break (or sober).