Ever since the first outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s, the epidemic has been linked with drug abuse and addiction. Since HIV is a blood-borne disease, sharing needles when injecting drugs is known to be a leading cause of infection. Less well known is the fact that drug abuse can lead to risky behaviors such as unsafe sex, another leading cause of HIV is transmission. Drug abuse can affect judgment and lower inhibitions, causing drug abusers to engage in impulsive and risky behaviors including unprotected sex with multiple partners. People who are addicted to drugs may also agree to risky sex in exchange
for drugs or money and may be unable to insist on using condom under the circumstances.
The CDC estimates that 1.2 million Americans are currently living with HIV. About one in five of these people are unaware that they have the infection and may not be taking precautions against spreading it. Nearly one in four cases of AIDS originates with intravenous drug use. Infected blood can be drawn up into a syringe and then passed to the next person who uses the same syringe. According to AIDS.org, HIV can survive in
a used syringe for at least 4 weeks. Besides syringes and needles, other types of drug equipment can spread HIV. A small amount of infected blood on tourniquets, filters or cookers is risky, as is blood on the hands or in rinse water.
In addition to being a leading cause of HIV/AIDS transmission, drug abuse can worsen the symptoms and progression of the disease. For example, studies have shown that methamphetamine use increases the level of HIV virus in the brain and causes increased cognitive impairment.
Approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. are infected with HIV each year. In total, nearly 620,000 Americans have died from the disease. Although there are now medications known as antiretrovirals (ARVs) that can extend the lives of people infected with HIV, drug abuse can interfere with an individual’s ability to adhere to an HIV treatment program. There is also a risk of interactions between street drugs and ARV medications. Since recreational drugs, alcohol and ARVs are all processed by the liver, combining their use can slow down liver function and increase the risk of drug overdose.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has stated that drug abuse treatment is an effective way to help prevent the spread of HIV. People who undergo treatment for drug abuse often receive counseling to reduce their risk of contracting and spreading HIV. In addition to overcoming drug dependence, many people who undergo drug treatment are able to reduce their HIV/AIDS risk when they stop injecting drugs and adopt safe sex practices.