CHEMSEX addiction &
treatment

What is Chemsex?

Chemsex refers to the practice of using certain drugs to intensify sex. People engage in chemsex to enhance their physical and psychological experience, lower inhibitions and increase their ability to engage in sexual activity for longer. There are often multiple partners involved with chemsex and sessions can last for hours and sometimes even days. While chemsex has always been associated with the gay community, it is becoming increasingly popular amongst straight people too.

What is chemsex addiction?

Chemsex addiction describes someone unable to control their need to use drugs during sex. Some chemsex addicts refer to themselves as drug addicts, sex addicts or both. While others identify purely as chemsex addicts. 

The stigma surrounding chemsex means that many people wishing to overcome their addiction do not receive the correct treatment in the first instance. They may seek out treatment only for drug addiction out of fear and shame. However, treatment for drug addiction addresses only half of the chemsex issue, which leads to individuals relapsing as soon as they experience any kind of sexual relationship.  

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The effects of chemsex

People engage in chemsex due to the intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure they experience as a result of using illicit substances. However, while participants will feel a rush of sexual desire, chemsex is also responsible for a range of undesirable side effects. The most common of these include: 

  • Increased confidence
  • Euphoria
  • Enhanced and prolonged sexual performance
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Risk-taking (not using protection ie condoms)
  • Sleeping with multiple partners
  • Sleeping with strangers
  • The desire for more extreme forms of sex
  • Long term sexual disfunction
  • Impaired decision making
  • Impulsiveness
  • Paying for sex
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Staying awake for prolonged periods

Drugs used in chemsex

While chemsex describes the use of any substance to heighten sexual pleasure, certain drugs are favoured for this kind of activity. This is because of their ability to produce a range of mood-altering effects. These drugs are GHB, Mephedrone and Methamphetamine. 

GHB or GBL: GHB (gammahydroxybutrate) and GBL (gammabutyrolactone) are known for their sedating effects, making users feel drowsy and uninhibited. Due to its desirable side effects, GHB carries a risk of addiction, and heavy use can lead to overdose resulting in suffering respiratory arrest or coma. GHB and GBL often come in liquid or powder form, meaning potency and measures are unclear. This drastically increases the risk of suffering an accidental overdose. It’s also easy to get addicted if people use GHB or GHL frequently. If physical addiction develops, then withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, shaking, sweating and insomnia. In extreme cases, people need to dose every hour to prevent the onset of severe withdrawal symptoms. With GHB or GBL addiction, it’s strongly advised to seek medical support or addiction treatment, to manage detoxification safely and rehabilitate effectively.

 

Mephedrone is a powerful synthetic stimulant similar to drugs such as amphetamines and speed. It is often found as granules or a fine white or yellowish powder. Mephedrone makes users feel confident, talkative and euphoric – and some people will temporarily feel strong affection to those around them, which is why it is such a popular drug among people who engage in chemsex. However, as with most illicit substances, mephedrone can be physically and psychologically addictive, producing a range of unpleasant side effects such as hallucinations, insomnia, heart palpitations and anxiety.  

 

Methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, is another highly addictive substance popular among people who engage in chemsex. It is responsible for releasing hormones such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Methamphetamine produces an overwhelming high along with heightened sexual arousal and lowered inhibitions. Sudden cessation of meth can cause unpleasant physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms which many find distressing. 

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The Dangers of using Chemsex

Chemsex practices can have a devastating impact on mental and physical health. A common misconception amongst people is that the dangers associated with chemsex are due to the use of illicit substances. However, the primary risks for those engaging in chemsex are acquiring infections during unprotected sex and sharing needles. Other risks to consider when participating in chemsex include:

  • Increases the likelihood of STDs
  • contracting blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis through unprotected sex and sharing drug paraphernalia
  • Engaging in risky behaviour resulting in assault or rape
  • Risk of being subjected to violent sex and violence
  • Danger of overdose or an adverse reaction to the drugs 
  • The combination of drugs and sex puts excessive strain on the heart and can lead to heart attack or heart failure
  • Partaking in sexual behaviour you later regret and would not normally consider without the influence of drugs
  • Not being able to form healthy and intimate relationships with others
  • Risk of engaging in dangerous forms of sex including strangulation and suffocation

 

Chemsex and alcohol: risks of mixing them

Chemsex involves the use of illicit drugs and combining these with other substances significantly increases the risk of harm. Alcohol does this by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA.

Chemsex drugs such as GHB and methamphetamines are known as sedatives, while alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant, meaning that it slows down the brain and body’s primary function and activity. When the two substances are combined, they impact the areas of the brain responsible for movement, coordination, mood regulation, memory, and decision-making abilities. These effects become more amplified the longer these substances are mixed, and the risk of overdose and other serious side effects increases significantly. 

What to do if you overdose during chemsex

If you overdose on any drugs during chemsex, you should seek medical assistance immediately. The symptoms of overdose may not be obvious at first, especially if your judgement is impaired as a result of being intoxicated. Treatment for a drug overdose varies depending on the situation. Knowing how much of what drug was ingested can be extremely helpful during treatment. However, this information is not always available. Similarly, if you’re with someone you suspect is experiencing an overdose of chemsex drugs, you should call the emergency services and ensure that airways remain clear, and their vital signs are stable. 

Chemsex addiction treatment

Chemsex is classed as a dual addiction, as it involves addiction to illegal drugs as well as sex. Addiction of any kind can progress rapidly and requires urgent treatment to avoid causing irreversible physical and psychological damage. 

While there are many types of treatment available, a supervised detox followed by counselling at a registered rehab facility is considered the safest and most effective. 

Treatment at an inpatient rehab typically involves a detox to eliminate any remaining toxins from the body. If you’re undergoing a medical detox, a doctor is on hand to prescribe the appropriate medication to help alleviate the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal during this stage. 

Once your symptoms have settled and you are considered well enough to participate in therapy sessions, you will be able to participate in psychotherapy sessions to help treat the behavioural aspect of drug and sex addiction. 

FAQs

Unlike regular drug use, engaging in chemsex poses twice the risk of health and safety.  Chemsex involves risks associated with the use of illicit drugs. However, the use of these drugs also leads to risky behaviour such as engaging in unprotected sex. This in turn can bring about a host of other dangers, such as the increased likelihood of HIV infection and other STIs, greater risk-taking affecting personal safety as well as psychological and physiological dependence.

Chemsex often begins as a fun and experimental experience, however, as is the case with any reward-seeking behaviour, there is always a possibility of addiction. People don’t engage in chemsex to develop an addiction. However, for many people, the guarantee of intense sexual pleasure becomes all too appealing. The use of illicit substances such as GHB and methamphetamine only intensify the experience. Eventually, these drugs are used more frequently and in larger quantities, therefore the risk of physical and psychological addiction increases too. When addiction sets in, there is no longer a choice about engaging in chemsex, it becomes a physical need rather than a desire.

Yes. GHB is an extremely dangerous party drug, often mixed with other substances such as methamphetamines, alcohol and mephedrone during chemsex. When GHB is combined with other CNS depressants, the risk of overdose increases significantly. Even when taken in small doses, these drugs can lead to nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness.

 

The sexual aspect of chemsex addiction is purely behavioural, and while stopping will probably cause agitation and mood swings, there are no unpleasant physical responses as a result of abstaining. However, the use of illicit drugs during chemsex may lead to tolerance and physical dependence, the results of which can result in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms once you stop. 

There are various types of treatment available, and the one you choose will ultimately depend on your circumstances. Due to the complexity of a dual diagnosis such as chemsex addition, an inpatient rehab facility is considered the safest place to receive treatment. 





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A page revised the 6 of July of 2021, by Danielle Byatt, a Level 4 addictions counselling, Level 5 in Leadership & Management, BA applied social work. and Treatment Director at Step by Step Recovery.

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