Over the influence of drug and alcohol use

On Tuesday, November 4, San Francisco AIDS Foundation will host a forum to discuss healthy alcohol use and the tactics we can all use to ensure we can have the party we want without doing harm to ourselves, our partners, and others. This Real Talk forum, held at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, will also highlight key findings from the Pacing Alcohol Consumption Experiment (PACE) study conducted jointly between University of California San Francisco and San Francisco AIDS Foundation which examined patterns of alcohol use and community norms around drinking. Read more about Can you party smart?  Let’s Talk Booze, here. In anticipation of this exciting and relevant community event, this month we bring you articles related to alcohol use, substance health, and harm reduction.  

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“Come high, come low, come sober,” explains Terry Morris, facilitator of the weekly Over the Influence book club at San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “This is a really low threshold group. You can come in without any agenda around changing your substance use.”

Morris co-facilitates the book club with marriage and family therapist Peter Carnini. It is part of the Stonewall Project, the foundation’s harm reduction-based substance use counseling and support program which aims to reduce negative drug and alcohol use effects on individuals, sex or drug use partners, and communities.       

Many of Stonewall’s group and individual counseling options help clients set and work towards specific goals related to substance use. A few of the drop-in groups, including the book club, are open to anyone who’s interested in exploring their relationship with alcohol or other substances.

The group embraces people across the spectrum of change—from people who are looking to make specific changes in the way that they use alcohol or drugs, to others who might simply need a space to talk about how their use without any pressure to modify or abstain completely. Oftentimes, explains Morris, people need the opportunity to simply explore how substances fit into their world, which the book club provides.

So what happens during the hour and a half book club meeting?

The group begins with a chance for everyone to get to know each other, settle in, and socialize. During the “check-in,” members share what their weekend was like, reasons for attending the book club, and “why they’ve decided to come out as a nerd,” says Morris, smiling at her explanation. Many members return on a weekly basis but there are always new faces. Regulars are asked to share what they’ve gotten out of the book so far, and newcomers are asked to share what they hope to get out of the book and of attending. 

“This isn’t the type of book club where there’s homework and people take the book home. You don’t have to read the book from cover to cover, either. During the group, whoever is comfortable reading, reads to the group for a bit. Then we chat.  Then we read a little more, and then we chat again,” explains Morris. “With this book, you can jump in at any time.”

Over the Influence uses a harm reduction approach to help individuals manage drug or alcohol use—whether or not abstinence from substances is the ultimate goal. The self-help book, authored by Patt Denning, Jeannie Little, and Adina Glickman of the Harm Reduction Therapy Center, uses a biopsychosocial model to approach substance use and misuse. Readers are encouraged to think of their substance use as part of their larger biological, psychological, and social experience. With an understanding that each person’s relationship to drugs or alcohol is unique, members use the book to think about what role drugs or alcohol play in all aspects of their life.

“Inviting people to talk about the reasons why substance use make sense and has worked for them is one of the most important things. Problems like depression, or grief, anxiety, chronic pain, or loneliness are often helped by substance use. In some respect, substance use is doing something for the person—but often it’s not working perfectly.  That’s why we invite people to think about how drugs are helping, how they might invite change, and what their other options might be.”

The walk-in Over the Influence Book Club meets every Monday from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, 1035 Market Street, Suite 400, Room 2C. 

The Stonewall Project is a non-shaming and sex-positive counseling program for gay, bisexual, and transgender men interested in making changes to their crystal meth, crack cocaine, powder cocaine, GHB, Ketamine, alcohol or other drug use. For more information, please visit the website, here.

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