Drug use greatly affects how your brain works and how you experience things. Restoring your brain chemistry and your old self takes time. As you recover, you may have to build a new kind of life. This doesn’t happen overnight. Several stages of recovery can be distinguished when quitting chemsex. The duration of each phase varies from person to person. Sometimes, the symptoms and stages may overlap.
Stage 1: The Crash
When you stop after a period of intense use, there is first a physical and emotional “crash”. This can last from a few days to a few weeks. During this period, you often have intense cravings and mood swings. Physical symptoms include tremors (uncontrollable shaking), intense fatigue, strongly increased appetite and sleep disorders. Some people suffer from teeth grinding, jaw clenching and night sweats. Psychological symptoms such as feelings of depression, anxiety and despair also often come into play. Some people suffer from paranoia and hallucinations. The worst symptoms usually subside within the first week. You must get through the crash to quit successfully. The emphasis during the crash is on refuelling physically and mentally, so it is crucial to avoid temptations because the craving is often strong and the mental state unstable.
Tips & Tricks
- Take your time for the crash period.
- Take time off from work, study or social obligations, if necessary.
- Discard all drug paraphernalia and chems.
- Make sure you have plenty of food and drink in the house.
- Avoid places, people and things that make you think of sex or chems.
- Sleep a lot, eat healthy and drink enough.
- Take multivitamins daily.
- Remind yourself that most intense feelings are a part of withdrawal and will go away on their own.
- You are unstable during this period. Do not make important decisions.
- If you feel you are at risk of becoming a danger to yourself or those around you, seek acute care.
- If psychotic symptoms such as severe paranoia or hallucinations persist for days or worsen, seek help!
Stage 2: The Pink Cloud
The worst of the crash is usually followed by a period in which everything seems to improve. This often lasts several weeks to months. You may feel better than you have in ages, and everything may seem to be getting better.
Tips & Tricks
- Do not be overconfident; acknowledge the gravity of your situation. Relapse is always just around the corner.
- If you have not already done so, delete all your drug-using contacts and dating profiles.
- Hang in there and utilise the energy you feel from recovering. For example, arrange for an addiction coach or buddy to provide weekly support and motivation to stay sober.
- Find someone to help you with practical issues like dealing with cravings.
- This is not yet the time to address underlying problems. However, it is a good time to take stock of what triggers you to feel like using.
- Boredom is a trap that causes many people to slip up. Stay busy and avoid a lot of idle hours in your week. Ask friends and family to help fill your days.
- Set small, achievable daily goals, such as staying awake all day, going for a brisk walk or calling two people.
- Try to resume a normal sleep rhythm during this period; sleep at night and avoid daytime naps.
Stage 3: The Wall
After the pink cloud, people often hit a wall. The reality of a life without chemsex starts to hit hard. This usually takes a couple of weeks to a few months. The body and mind are slowly recovering. You may suffer from poor concentration or difficulty planning and retaining information. Some people no longer experience joy. This is because the drugs have disrupted the chemical balance in the brain, but this will recover.
You may still experience regular drug cravings. Feelings suppressed through drug use often come up in full force now. This is the most difficult period for many people. The conviction and courage to quit fade into the background. It may seem that only boredom, depression and despair lie ahead. You may experience extra cravings and desire for sex during this stage. It is as if your brain is doing everything possible to get you back on chems.
Tips & Tricks
- Remember that most symptoms are caused by an imbalance in your brain. Restoring your brain chemistry takes time. A lack of joy caused by drug use usually diminishes or disappears after several months.
- Sex and chems quickly become two sides of the same coin in your brain. As such, thinking about sex can easily trigger a memory of chems. Do not only think back to the euphoric, intense sex you had while under the influence, but also force yourself to remember the negative and dark sides of using.
- Boredom and loneliness are major causes of relapse. If you have not started going, now is the time to start going to support groups. Support groups provide more insight, structure and distraction, and help you make new contacts.
- Start volunteering, take up an old hobby, visit friends or undertake activities that involve regular interaction with people who do not use drugs. In short: plan things that will keep you busy and socially connected.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise makes you feel better; it provides satisfaction and distraction and promotes physical recovery. Besides sports, you can also do yoga or mindfulness. These help you relax and make you aware of your body and mind.
- Avoid places and people who may tempt you, such as saunas, sex clubs, cruising sites, your dealer’s street, old drug-using friends or certain parties. This is not yet the time to experiment with dating or going out again. If you do want to go out, do so with sober friends.
- Try to become aware of what keeps triggering your craving. Write down your triggers and avoid those things as much as possible.
Stage 4: Adaptation
Once you are “past the wall,” you feel more energetic and clear minded again. In this stage, you will find that you are less easily triggered. The overwhelming craving gradually lessens. Where you may have been triggered daily before, it may now only happen weekly. Depending on the duration and intensity of your drug use, this is usually in months 4 to 6.
Your brain chemistry is also regaining balance, and little by little, you will begin to experience pleasure in life again. Instead of “surviving”, you can focus on your “new life”. You may start to realise what you have lost through your drug use and the potential damage you have done. Feelings of grief, sadness, shame and guilt often accompany this stage. It is also common for intense feelings temporarily numbed by drug use to surface suddenly.
Tips & Tricks
- Take up meditation, yoga or mindfulness.
- Visit friends where you can be yourself weekly.
- Regularly express your feelings to them or in a support group.
- Keep a journal and read it back regularly.
- You may still unexpectedly find yourself in situations that can greatly fuel your urge to take drugs. This can evoke a lot of emotions. Give yourself time, allow yourself to make mistakes, don’t be too hard on yourself, and change things that don’t work for you.
- Avoiding triggers as much as possible in the early stages is essential. However, the ultimate goal is awareness and dealing with triggers and cravings.
- Do not give in to your cravings; experience the difficult feelings and change your habits.
- Do something other than using drugs; go for a run or do breathing exercises when you feel cravings. If you do this frequently, you will find that it becomes easier. For more information about triggers, go to triggers, cravings and slip-ups.
- Stay vigilant about cravings in relation to sex. Because sex is so deeply linked to chems, that is where most of the triggers will come up. This is the time to address deeper, often long-standing negative patterns.
- Consider talking to a psychologist, psychiatrist or sex therapist. You may have previously avoided difficult feelings by using drugs and having sex. You will now have to find other ways to deal with those feelings. Try to find a therapist who works with LGBT+ individuals and is focused on teaching practical new life skills. We have created an overview of the care providers who treat people who engage in chemsex.
Stage 5: Recovery
After six to twelve months, you have mostly put your drug use behind you. For some, it may already feel like a different life, while others still think about drugs daily. The fact is that recovery is a continuous process. You can still be triggered at unexpected times.
Tips & Tricks
- Stay alert to situations that may tempt you.
- Keep working on personal issues that contributed to your drug use.
- Regularly ask yourself if you are still prioritising your recovery enough.
- Celebrate the milestone of not using chems for a year, and be proud of yourself.