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Alcohol and HIV/AIDS

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The potential influence of alcohol use on the contraction, progression, and treatment of HIV-related illness

Drinking in a Shebeen (unlicensed-unregulated bar)
shebeen04.jpg

People with alcohol use disorders are more likely than the general population to contract HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Similarly, people with HIV are more likely to abuse alcohol at some time during their lives. Alcohol use is associated with high-risk sexual behaviors and injection drug use, two major modes of HIV transmission. Concerns about HIV in Botswana have increased as recent trends suggest a constant level of infection among women. In persons already infected, the combination of heavy drinking and HIV has been associated with increased medical and psychiatric complications, delays in seeking treatment, difficulties with HIV medication compliance, and poorer HIV treatment outcomes. Decreasing alcohol use in people who have HIV or who are at risk for becoming infected reduces the spread of HIV and the diseases associated with it.

People who abuse alcohol are more likely to engage in behaviors that place them at risk for contracting HIV. For example, a history of heavy alcohol use has been correlated with a lifetime tendency toward high-risk sexual behaviors, including multiple sex partners, unprotected intercourse, sex with high-risk partners (in Botswana, the infection rate of 38% makes every partner a High risk partner), and the exchange of sex for money or drugs.

There may be many reasons for this association. For example, alcohol can act directly on the brain to reduce inhibitions and diminish risk perception. However, expectations about alcohols effects may exert a more powerful influence on alcohol-involved sexual behavior. Studies consistently demonstrate that people who strongly believe that alcohol enhances sexual arousal and performance are more likely to practice risky sex after drinking.

Some people report deliberately using alcohol during sexual encounters to provide an excuse for socially unacceptable behavior or to reduce their conscious awareness of risk.

Alcohol increases susceptibility to some infections that can occur as complications of AIDS. Infections associated with both alcohol and AIDS include tuberculosis; pneumonia caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae; and the viral disease hepatitis C. TB is the leading cause of death among people with HIV in Botswana. Alcohol may also increase the severity of AIDS-related brain damage, which is characterized in its severest form by profound dementia and a high death rate.


In addition, many patients fail to comply with the complex medication regimen. Studies have associated heavy alcohol use with decreased medication compliance as well as with poorer response to HIV therapy in general. The outcome of HIV therapy improved significantly among alcoholics who stopped drinking and we believe that outcomes improve among all who are HIV positive and who stop drinking.

AA Meeting Information

How Getting High Can Get You AIDS

Brain Damage - No wonder I do dumb things!

Safe Haven Counseling Center

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