April 8, 2020

Covid-19 Social Distancing and Drug Use: Will's Story

Pivot Point had a chat with Will about drug use in the time of COVID-19. Will is a gay man who is 35 years old, he identifies as a person who injects drugs.  We spoke with Will about how he’s managing lifestyle changes at the moment, including changes to how he usually socialises and uses drugs.    


Hey Will, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?  

Sure, I’m a gay man living with HIV. I’ve had HIV for about a decade, I strongly identify as a person who injects drugs, and, in the past, I’ve identified as a sexually adventurous man, but not so much these days.

I’m working fulltime and I study part-time, so my schedule is busy. I have been contemplating adopting a cat for about a year now so have been looking online for cat beds, toys and other things (almost like I’m expecting a baby to arrive and I’m preparing the baby’s room!). I’d really love to adopt a bonded pair, so that when COVID-19 is over and I return to not being home due to work and study, they will have each other for company.


Before COVID 19, how did you usually use drugs? 

I’m not really into alcohol because it gives me anxiety, but I use cannabis and meth. I smoke cannabis daily but inject meth every 3 or 4 months.


In the time of social distancing, has anything changed around your drug use?

I’ve been social distancing at home for about four weeks now. I’ve noticed an increase in my cannabis use – a mix of being more at home and dealing with feeling a bit stressed and coping with living alone.

My triggers and cravings around meth use have been stronger and more frequent. The routine of going into work and into the university for lectures really helps keep me on track with managing cravings ordinarily. Even just having to turn up to work on a Monday morning in person helps me manage my meth use on the weekends. Since my routine has been interrupted, I’m finding that I am talking myself out of getting some gear and getting on it more than I ordinarily would. Not having physical contact with my closest friends has also contributed to my feeling triggered.


Are you noticing any changes around the ways in which your friends are using right now?  

I’ve heard that some of my friends are jumping more into the online cams and using crystal and GHB with people from around the world. I think this is a great way to consume drugs with other people while practicing social distancing. The drawback is that sometimes I’ve observed cultures of dangerous quantities of both G and meth being used online. If I were to engage in this space, setting my limits around how much I use in one session and how frequently I dose would be essential.


If you were to give fellow drug users advice about how to manage their risk around drug use and COVID-19 transmission, what would you tell them?  

The main message is that we really need to practice social distancing – COVID-19 is real and we all need to work collectively by acting ourselves.

If I’m using by myself at this time, I let close friends know when I am going to use. This doesn’t always work out perfectly. While I love to plan my use, sometimes this doesn’t happen, and I use opportunistically. I try to communicate as early as possible to friends that I am having a session.

Eating food and staying hydrated is key, especially if using without others in the same space. When I use with mates, we tend to remind each other to drink and eat. Cultures of care don’t always operate online the same as they do in person. I try to set myself some alarms or reminders – which works most of the time.


Sometimes people mix drugs like crystal and G with sex. What’s your position on sex right now? If your sex life has changed how have you managed that?   

I’m in several relationships with other men. I don’t live with any of my partners, so I have not been seeing them other than through video chats. I am masturbating more – in part to help deal with cravings. I am having less sex now because of COVID-19.


We’ve talked a lot about drug use and COVID-19 transmission but in general there’s lots going on right now, what are you doing to stay well?    

I’m doing video calls with my closest friends and phone calls to my family. I’m trying to build in daily exercise of some variety, whether that is walking around the block, taking a yoga class online or just doing a few stretches to combat sitting all day.

If I am feeling a bit emotionally overwhelmed, I acknowledge it. I then try and use music to shift my thoughts. I’m reflecting a lot on what things have contributed to that feeling. Maybe I haven’t eaten enough for lunch, or I’ve forgotten to drink water, or had too much coffee or need a break from the news/social media. Whatever I am feeling, I do it in a gentle way and try to show some compassion to myself.

I remind myself that we are all in this together.