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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone. Our goal is to inform, empower, and inspire conversation. Poppers are the third most commonly-used drug by gay men. If a person is interested in changing their substance use, and reducing or stopping drug use altogether, is it necessary to stop using poppers too?
Read both of their stories, and consider which approach resonates with you. Carl is a gay man who stopped taking methamphetamine and other drugs 12 years ago. He has struggled for his recovery but made ificant changes in his life—until he reintroduced poppers. He decided they were simply not worth the risk of a full-blown relapse, and stopped using poppers altogether.
Tim, another gay man, stopped using alcohol and cocaine five years ago. He always enjoyed poppers to enhance his sexual experiences. During his first year of recovery, he abstained from them altogether. At his first anniversary, Tim negotiated with his sponsor to occasionally use them during sex. They have long been a fixture in the gay community and, in the s and s, consisted mostly of alkyl nitrites. Today, poppers have been reformulated with isopropyl nitrite, the latter of which has been documented to cause albeit rarely eye damage, particularly retinal problems.
Data from the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study showed that poppers, because of increased unprotected anal intercourse, doubled the risk hazard for acquiring HIV, and the use of poppers and methamphetamine tripled that risk. Poppers are not benign. Blood pressure can drop because they dilate vessels, causing dizziness, weakness, and even passing out. These effects are compounded with the concurrent use of blood pressure medication. It is important to note that erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra can also cause a drop in blood pressure, so using poppers with ED drugs carries great risk.
Recovery from substance use typically includes total abstinence from drugs. Yet for many in recovery, poppers fall into a gray area. Although some men in recovery may be able to use poppers without great risk, as a gay man in recovery, this is not my personal choice. While any mood-altering substance carries risk, I believe the greatest harm may lie not in their actual use, but in how we handle the topic itself. Secrets, bargaining, shame, and rationalization—which can be experienced with the use of any drug, even poppers—are fatal for someone working on their substance use.
To bring this conversation into the light, I reached out to people in several closed recovery groups on social People doing poppers, and asked them to weigh in through an anonymous online survey. Length of sobriety appeared to have no correlation with assumptions about People doing poppers dangerousness of poppers.
This confusion, ultimately, is as harmful to recovery as using the drug itself. I also asked people to comment on the issue of people using poppers in recovery, and a few general themes emerged. Here they are, listed in no particular order these themes do not necessarily reflect my own opinion.
Some respondents stated that sobriety from mood-altering chemicals should not be so rigidly-defined, and that the use of poppers is not necessarily problematic for everyone. Still others stated they privately negotiate the use of poppers with their sponsor or simply use them without disclosure.
Others referenced the distinct mood-altering effects of poppers and insisted that true sobriety must include abstinence from them. Many men noted that poppers elicit triggers and cravings because they cause a physical and psychological reaction that is both mood-altering and reminiscent of prior use of all kinds of drugs. This risk is especially high if, in the past, poppers were utilized with methamphetamine. Poppers also lower inhibitions such that someone who had no intention of using other drugs might find their resistance diminished. We know that sex and drugs in gay culture can be highly ritualized and that simply ing onto social media apps like Grindr People doing poppers Scruff can be triggering.
It makes sense that using poppers, reminiscent of that prior ritual, could elicit cravings for other drugs. Many men in the survey said they believed that poppers are not as harmful as other drugs they are not without potential harm, as noted above.
Survey respondents compared poppers to caffeine, nicotine, energy drinks—even steroids. Although poppers may be less lethal than some other drugs they are mood-altering. Some men reported that they control potential harm by limiting their use to certain settings or by restricting frequency.
Some men in the survey noted that the motivation or intention was the key to potential harm. Others noted that simply using poppers to enhance sex carried low risk, as opposed to using with the intention to self-medicate. Some declared that poppers, unlike other drugs, had never made their life unmanageable while others avoided using them altogether, stating that the goal of recovery is freedom from dependence on substances through the development of inner resources. The final theme that emerged was the potential for poppers to reawaken and reinforce the drug-sex connection.
Intoxicating sensations can be a powerful reminder of old thoughts, feelings, and desires, especially for stimulant users, and there is a real risk of triggering addictive behaviors. One major challenge in recovery is the creation of healthy and satisfying sex and intimacy. This takes People doing poppers, patience, and a considerable amount of self-examination, a process that for some may be impeded by their continued use of poppers. Grov, C. Exploring racial and ethnic differences in recreational drug use among gay and bisexual men in New York City and Los Angeles.
Journal of Drug Education, Plankey, M. JAIDS Santo, G. AIDS Behav. With over thirty years of clinical experience, Dr. Fawcett brings a deep understanding to the complex interaction of sex and recreational drugs in the gay community. Substance use. Are Poppers a Risk to My Sobriety? Should people in recovery stop using poppers? April 18, 6 Minute Read. About the author. Share this Post. Related Stories.
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Is amyl nitrite safe?