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HIV and Substance Abuse - The Connection

Alcohol and drug use is a major cause of new HIV infections. Needle sharing can spread HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases. In addition, alcohol and drug use, even when just used recreationally, contribute to unsafe sexual activities.

Injection Drug Use: Injection drug use is a leading cause of HIV in the United States. If you inject drugs, you can get HIV from sharing used needles or other equipment ("works") with an infected person. You can also then easily pass HIV to your sex and drug-using partners.

Effect on Judgment and Risky Behavior: Drinking alcohol or taking other drugs can also increase your risk for acquiring HIV. Being drunk or high affects your ability to make safe choices and lowers your inhibitions, leading you to take risks you are less likely to take when sober, such as having sex without a condom. Studies found that even causal users under the influence of drugs or alcohol are more at risk of applying poor judgment regarding sex-related decisions and engage in unprotected sex, thereby increasing their chances of contracting HIV from infected individuals.

Health Effect of Substance Abuse: If you are HIV positive and are taking antiretroviral medication, alcohol and other drug use can affect your compliance with and adherence to the medication protocol. It is also a factor of concern because it may lead to unsafe sex—increasing the risk of transmitting HIV to others. Substance abuse and addiction can also affect your overall health, thereby altering your susceptibility to HIV, the progression of AIDS and the ability for the HAART medications to work as they are intended to.

Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention: Research has shown that substance abuse prevention and treatment can also prevent the spread of HIV. Substance abusers in treatment stop or reduce their drug use and related risk behaviors, including drug injection and unsafe sexual practices. Substance abuse prevention and treatment programs also serve an important role in providing current information on HIV and related diseases, counseling and testing services, and referrals for medical and social services.