How Do Alcohol and Other
Kinds of Drugs Put Me at Risk
for Getting or Transmitting HIV?
When you’re drunk or high, you’re more likely to make decisions that put you at risk for getting or transmitting HIV, such as having sex without a condom.
Drinking alcohol, particularly binge drinking, and using drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine can alter your judgment, lower your inhibitions, and impair your decisions about sex or other drug use. You may be more likely to have unplanned and unprotected sex, have a harder time using a condom the right way every time you have sex, have more sexual partners, or use other drugs, including injection drugs or meth. Those behaviors can increase your risk of exposure to HIV. If you have HIV, they can also increase your risk of spreading HIV to others. Being drunk or high affects your ability to make safe choices.
If you’re going to a party or another place where you know you’ll be drinking or using drugs, you can bring a condom so that you can reduce your risk if you have vaginal or anal sex.
Therapy, medicines, and other methods are available to help you stop or cut down on drinking or using drugs. Talk with a counselor, doctor, or other health care provider about options that might be right for you. To find a treatment center near you, check out the locator tool on SAMHSA.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Drug abuse and addiction can also worsen the progression of HIV and its consequences, especially in the brain.
Drug abuse and addiction have been inextricably linked with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. While intravenous drug use is well known in this regard, less recognized is the role that drug abuse plays more generally in the spread of HIV by increasing the likelihood of high-risk sex with infected partners.
The intoxicating effects of many drugs can alter judgment and inhibition and lead people to engage in impulsive and unsafe behaviors. Also, people who are abusing or addicted to drugs may engage in sexually risky behaviors to obtain drugs or money for drugs. Nearly one-quarter of AIDS cases stem from intravenous drug use, and one in four people living with HIV/AIDS in the period of 2005–2009 reported use of alcohol or drugs to an extent that required treatment.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) targets the body’s immune system and often leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
The U.S. CDC reported that in 2015, 39,513 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States; more than 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, and 1 in 8 of them don’t know it.
Scientists have learned that alcohol misuse can contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS and affect treatment for infected patients.
Abusing alcohol or other drugs can impair judgment, leading a person to engage in risky sexual behaviors.
People who drink heavily may delay getting tested for HIV and, if they do test positive, they may postpone seeking treatment.
Alcohol misuse may make it difficult for infected patients to follow the complex medications regimen that is often prescribed to treat HIV/AIDS.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can contribute to conditions such as liver disease and other disorders that have an impact on the progression of HIV infection.
All of these factors increase the likelihood that an infected person will infect others or will go on to develop AIDS.
Getting treatment. People in treatment for drug use should receive counseling to learn how to stop or reduce their drug use and related risky behaviors. Health care providers can use the Seek, Test, Treat, and Retain model of care to seek out and test hard-to-reach people who use drugs and offer them treatment. Read more about drug use disorder treatments in DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
How can people lessen the spread of viral infections?
People can reduce the risk of getting or passing on a viral infection by:
Not using drugs. This decreases the chance of engaging in unsafe behavior, such as sharing drug-use equipment and having unprotected sex, which can lead to these infections.
Getting tested. People who use drugs should get tested for HIV, HBV, and HCV. Those who are infected may look and feel fine for years and may not even be aware of the infection. Therefore, testing is needed to help prevent the spread of disease—among those most at risk and in the general population. Read more about HIV testing at the AIDS.gov webpage, HIV Test Types. Read more about hepatitis testing in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) fact sheet, Hepatitis C: Information on Testing and Diagnosis.
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