How Does Substance Abuse Lead to the Spread of HIV/AIDS?

By February 10, 2023 No Comments
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It’s no secret that drug and alcohol misuse have a negative impact on health. In fact, one of the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder, which is the clinical term for an addiction, is continuing to use drugs or alcohol, even when they contribute to health problems. Ongoing substance abuse can lead to a variety of health issues, but one risk worth calling attention to is the increased likelihood of developing HIV or AIDS. Learn about this and other health conditions linked to substance abuse below.

The Impact of Substance Abuse on Health 

Drug and/or alcohol abuse can take a significant toll on health, leading to medical problems and worsened physical functioning. In fact, one study with women living with substance use disorders found that 62.5% of them experienced substance-related health problems, such as liver disease, weight loss, malnutrition, and complicated withdrawal symptoms like seizures. 

Another study involving over 200,000 adults found that there was a high overlap between substance misuse and chronic diseases, including the following:

  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Heart Disease
  • Hepatitis
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes 

People with chronic diseases were more likely than those without a chronic disease to also have a substance use disorder. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has explained, people who live with addictions are likely to have at least one health condition, as a result of the damaging effects of drugs on the body.

The specific health impact of substance abuse can vary based upon the type of drug a person uses. For instance, methamphetamine is linked to dental problems, whereas opioid misuse is associated with deaths from overdose. The bottom line is that ongoing drug and alcohol abuse is damaging for health. 

Substance Abuse and the Spread of HIV/AIDS

In addition to increasing the risk of several chronic diseases, substance abuse significantly elevates the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. According to NIDA, “Addiction and HIV/AIDS are intertwined epidemics.” Because people may share needles for injecting drugs, substance misuse is linked to the spread of HIV and AIDS. In fact, 10% of cases of HIV are attributed to injection drug use.  In addition, people are more likely to engage in unprotected sex while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, which further increases the spread of HIV and AIDS. 

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), multiple substances are associated with an increased risk of contracting HIV. Beyond risks that come from sharing needles or engaging in unprotected sex, some people with addictions may resort to trading sex for drugs, which is also linked to the spread of HIV. 

Unfortunately, substance abuse worsens health for those who do contract HIV. People who misuse drugs or alcohol are less likely to adhere to treatment for HIV, and they experience a faster progression of the disease. One recent study of teens and young adults with HIV found that 27.5% of them used marijuana; 21.3% were alcohol users, and 22.5% used other illegal drugs.

In the study referenced above, men who had sex with men, as well as transgender women, were more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Lack of stable housing, having sex without condoms, being involved in the criminal justice system, and receiving inadequate HIV treatment were all associated with substance misuse, demonstrating the numerous risks that occur when individuals with HIV engage in substance misuse. 

Reducing the Risk of HIV/AIDS and Other Negative Health Outcomes

It’s clear that there is a link between substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and other negative health outcomes, but with quality treatment, these risks can be reduced. For people who have HIV, effective substance use disorder treatment improves outcomes related to HIV, in addition to addressing substance misuse. When you enter an addiction treatment program, your clinical team will not only treat your addiction; they will also refer you to medical services to treat HIV. Over time, as you treat your addiction, you’re likely to find that HIV-related symptoms and other health problems improve.

Even if you don’t have HIV or other health problems related to addiction, entering a treatment program now will reduce your risk of developing health problems over the long-term. When you are engaged in addiction treatment, you’ll be provided with routine medical care and screenings, so that health problems can be detected and treated as soon as possible. It’s easier to care for your health and take steps to reduce your risk of chronic diseases when you are in recovery, compared to when you are actively using drugs, and most of your time and money is used to fuel the addiction. 

Entering treatment and remaining abstinent from drugs and alcohol will also improve your judgment, so you are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as needle sharing and unprotected sex, which can lead to the development of HIV and other health problems. 

Southern California Substance Use Disorder Treatment

If you’re looking for addiction treatment services in the Southern California region, Mission Harbor Behavioral Health has offices in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. We provide services for both teens and adults, and we have a range of treatment tracks, so you can find a program that fits your unique needs and schedule. We are dedicated to providing quality substance use disorder treatment to help Southern California residents overcome the effects of addiction. We’re also qualified to treat mental health disorders, so we are an excellent option for dual diagnosis treatment

Mission Harbor is happy to provide intensive outpatient services to those living with symptoms of a substance use disorder and a mental health condition. We also have strong relationships with area hospitals and other healthcare providers in the community, so we can provide quality, integrated treatment. Contact us today to learn more about our services or to begin the admissions process.

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin combines his years of experience in behavioral health with a mission to innovate treatment methods and processes for mental health and substance abuse. Sam not only brings to the table his successful career owning and managing successful treatment facilities around the country but his dedication to creating an environment for healing. Sam obtained his Masters in Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University.