The Link Between Chemsex, Depression, and Anxiety
“Sex, drugs, and rock and roll” is an iconic phrase in the world of music . However, in the context of mental health, this dangerous practice is known as chemsex. It’s particularly linked to clinical entities such as depression and anxiety.
It might seem fun to mix so many elements together with the aim of providing pleasure. But, sexual intercourse under the influence of toxins such as alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, mephedrone, or speed is extremely dangerous.
In fact, people who frequently experience chemsex are more likely to develop serious diseases like AIDS or hepatitis. There’s also a risk of depression, anxiety, and even psychosis.
“Under the effect of drugs you do not care about anything, you just want to isolate yourself from the world and get an inner peace that is not achieved in a normal state.”
We can define chemsex by diving into its etymology. Chems is used colloquially to designate the drugs and sex is self-explanatory.
Therefore, chemsex consists of indulging in sexual practices while consuming drugs, with the aim of prolonging such practices for an almost indefinite time (for hours or even days). At first, it was confined to the homosexual community but, over the years, it’s permeated other social groups. Today, it’s been spreading like wildfire among the younger population.
“What a high” or “This chill session has been amazing ” are expressions often used by chemsex regulars. When sexual practices involve drugs that they inject through the skin or subdermally, they’re called slam or slamming (Ocón, 2022). This gives an idea of the serious implications chemsex can have on the health of those who indulge.
“The effects of some of these drugs cause excessive euphoria and disinhibition that in this context can lead to extreme activities, such as sex sessions that last even days.”
-Raúl Osorio Ocón-
People who practice chemsex tend to develop depression and anxiety
Recently, the Institute of Addictions of Madrid (Spain) published “El Informe Chemsex 2021/2022” (The Chemsex Report 2021/2022).
The document mentions that chemsex is beginning to emerge as a clear public health problem, given the repercussions of its practice in various areas such as physical and mental health. According to this report, in the last four years, the phenomenon has grown by close to 600 percent, setting off all the alarm bells and placing this practice in the public arena.
On the other hand, it’s pointed out that people who frequently practice chemsex, mostly men, have suffered violence within the family, as well as abuse by partners and/or sexual abuse.
The type of violence that these people frequently suffer the most is based on hate, stigma, and homophobia. In fact, it’s reported by almost three out of ten people. In addition, a similar number of subjects suffered abuse in childhood or adolescence (Madrid Salud, 2022).
“Chemsex occurs mainly in private homes, although it can also take place in saunas, sex clubs, hotels, and cruising areas (outdoor flirting).”
-Raúl Osorio Ocón-
Chemsex and psychopathology: a close association
Of all the people who reported conducting chemsex practices, almost half of them presented a mental disorder superimposed on the conflict with the drugs. This is known as dual pathology.
Among the clinical entities found with the highest incidence in this context, mood, and anxiety disorders occurred more frequently. The figures were 40 and 35 percent, respectively (Madrid Salud, 2022).
Practicing chemsex could be linked to autolytic behaviors. Up to ten percent of the subjects who participated in the Madrid Salud research (2022) reported this fact. These behaviors are characterized by self-inflicting physical harm with the aim of mitigating psychological discomfort.
On the other hand, a strong connection has also been found between chemsex and developing a psychotic disorder. Consequently, chemsex could be a dangerous gateway to psychopathology.
“The main psychiatric disorders associated with chemsex are: anxiety, depression, psychotic episodes, suicidal behavior, and complex trauma.”
-Raúl Osorio Ocón-
The minority stress theory
The gay community has historically been one of the most persecuted and reviled minority groups. According to this theory, chemsex is one of the strategies that these people might use to face so-called minority stress. It’s the kind that derives from events such as feeling discriminated against and persecuted, as well as the one that occurs as a consequence of prejudice or stigma (Albañir, 2022).
Returning to what we mentioned earlier will help in understanding this matter. As we stated, according to the report, those who practice chemsex are suffering a great deal of abuse and trauma.
“The fact that there is a privileged minority does not compensate or excuse the situation of discrimination in which the rest of their peers live.”
-Simone de Beauvoir-
The importance of prevention
It’s essential to create interventions that strengthen the universe of social relationships of these individuals. We know that ‘feeling supported’ benefits humans in their mental health. Consequently, they perceive a greater balance in their emotions.
In addition, it’s been found that a deficit in social relationships lies behind people entering the dark world of chemsex. This aspect justifies our attention in the context of prevention.
Any interventions must be multidisciplinary. It’s important that preventive programs are created in the areas that are most affected as a result of chemsex. We’re talking about the sexual and mental spheres, but also about comprehensive care for drug addiction and the importance of providing them with functional support (for example, at work, academics, or housing) (Albañir, 2022).
As we’ve been able to verify, the practice of chemsex is now in the arena of public health. Moreover, its repercussions are both serious and extensive. Therefore, it’s essential to develop interventions that make it possible to prevent the problem, as well as treatments that help people get out of this dangerous self-destructive loop.
“Problems such as substance use, the high prevalence of HIV and/or STIs, and the increased burden of emotional distress must be addressed together, as they could be due to the stigma associated with HIV or homophobia.”
-Perry N. Halkitis-
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
Ocón, R. S. (2022). El fenómeno del chemsex: claves para mejorar la respuesta institucional. Revista española de drogodependencias, (47), 5-13.
Consejo General de la Psicología Española (s. f.). La mitad de las personas que practican Chemsex presentan trastornos de depresión y ansiedad. www.infocoponline.es. https://www.infocop.es/view_article.asp?id=22716
Romero Albañir, E. (2022). Tratamiento cognitivo conductual en un caso de adicción a Chemsex. Estudio de caso.
Halkitis, P. N., & Singer, S. N. (2018). Chemsex and mental health as part of syndemic in gay and bisexual men. International Journal of Drug Policy, 55, 180-182.