The first days of the new year are often not kind to us party people. After going hard for hours on end to celebrate, reflecting on your use while nursing your hangover makes a lot of sense! Hopefully you were able to sneak some harm reduction strategies into your holiday partying by drinking water, not sharing straws or other drug use supplies and finding safe rides homes in the wee hours of 2019. It might be tempting to make a long list of all your resolutions for the new year but not so fast! That same philosophy that nudged you to party safer can also help you set realistic goals for your substance use.
A drug user’s guide to harm reduction new years resolutions
Harm reduction means recognizing any positive change a person makes in their life. It’s a political movement started by people who use drugs that offers practical ways for people to manage risk in a harmful world. Rather than insisting that people stop using drugs entirely, harm reduction meets people where they are at. You get to decide what success looks like for you! You can change how you use, where you use, why you use or how much you use. Here’s five ways to use make harm reduction based new year’s resolutions:
- Be gentle with yourself.
Drug use is still super highly stigmatized, in all forms. Even though humans have used drugs for all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of ways throughout human history, society is still constantly telling us that people who use drugs are shitty. It blows. Rebel against this by being kind to yourself. You’re off to an amazing start by deciding you want to change.
- Start with reducing the risk.
A lot of times when people talk about changing their use it’s around stopping their use all together. That’s a such a big change all at once, it’s not surprising that it doesn’t work for everyone. Try to start by reducing the biggest risks you take. Think of all the substances you use and list them. Then try to think about the biggest risks associated with each substance. If you’re someone who gets blackout every time you drink, that might stand out against the much chiller risks of you eating all the chips when you get too stoned. Or maybe the biggest risks you take are sharing straws, needles or pipes when you use, calling into work the day after a party, or not knowing how to get home at the end of the night. Risks can be physical, social, emotional and beyond, so there’s lots to consider! Once you have a list of all the risks with each substance you take, it will be easier to rank them. You get to decide what is most impactful or problematic in your life. Think about what contributes to those risks – is the drug, your headspace, who you party with or where you are when use? Sometimes changing how we use (ie eating a pill vs bumping), where we use or when we use can have a big impact even if we are still using the same amount. Testing your drugs with a reagent test kit can give you a better idea of what you’re actually taking and help you plan your night better.
- Small steps are still steps.
Once you’ve figured out the biggest risks you want to reduce, start small. You know yourself best! What are changes that you will actually make? You can break up a big change into smaller pieces by changing when you use (I’ll only smoke during the week, but not on weekends), how you use (I’ll vape instead of smoking), or by slowly lowering your dose (I’ll smoke one less cigarette this week). Do some research about how to taper a substance if you’re looking at cutting back your use, especially if you feel like you have a tolerance. You can sub a substance that is less harmful substance in place of another or avoid mixes that mess with you. There are many practical ways to change your drug use!
- Figure out what works for you.
You get to decide what responsible use looks like for you in your life. Some folks can be happy and functional while using many substances responsibly. For others, even social or casual use can be really damaging. Focus on the effects of your use, rather than getting hung up on the amount. You get to choose what your ideal use looks like. Some people find it easier to limit themselves so that they don’t have to make tough choices around their use. They buy less, have others hold on to their stash or leave the party at a certain time before the drugs start being passed around. That is a totally okay way to go if it works for you! Be creative. If you know you don’t drink water when you’re high, try using crazy straws or your own reusable cup at the after party to make it more special. Or try sparkling water instead! Invite your pals over before going out to help you cut straws or plan a way home. Change is hard. Try to think of how you can make it feel fun or novel so you actually want to do it. If you’re trying to be sober for a night or longer, here are some sober bar options in Toronto where you can still hang out late and get fun non-alcoholic drinks.
- Making mistakes means you’re trying.
We all fuck up! And that’s actually okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it (remember tip #1? Be gentle with yourself!). So you messed up and did the thing. Think about what contributed to it, what could you change for next time and move on. Just because you fell back a bit, doesn’t erase all the progress you made. Celebrate every win and know there will be bumps on any road you take. You can do it!