HIV | Aids and Addiction



What Are HIV and AIDS?

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). AIDS is a disease of the immune system for which there is treatment, but no cure, at the present time. The virus (HIV) and the disease it causes (AIDS) are often linked and referred to as "HIV/AIDS."

HIV can be transferred among people if an infected person's blood or other bodily fluid comes in contact with the blood, broken skin, or mucous membranes of an uninfected person. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding.


HIV destroys a certain kind of white blood cell that is crucial to the normal function of the human immune system. Loss of these CD4+ cells in people with HIV is a key predictor of the development of AIDS. Because of their compromised immune system, people with AIDS often develop infections of the lungs, brain, eyes, and other organs, and they frequently suffer dangerous weight loss, diarrhoea, and a type of cancer called Kaposi's sarcoma.


Some hopeful news is that in recent years, HIV is no longer a death sentence, as it was when the epidemic began. This is largely because of treatment with HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), a combination of three or more antiretroviral medications that can suppress the virus and prevent or decrease symptoms of illness.


How are Drug Abuse and HIV Related?

Drug abuse and addiction have been inextricably linked with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. Although injection drug use is well known in this regard, the role that non-injection drug abuse plays more generally in the spread of HIV is less recognized. This is partly due to the addictive and intoxicating effects of many drugs, which can alter judgement and inhibition and lead people to engage in impulsive and unsafe behaviours.


Injection drug use

People typically associate drug abuse and HIV/AIDS with injection drug use and needle sharing. HIV can be transmitted between users when injection drug users share "equipment"-such as needles, syringes, and other drug injection paraphernalia. Other infections-such as hepatitis C-can also be spread this way. Hepatitis C can cause liver disease and permanent liver damage.


Poor judgement and risky behaviour

Drug abuse by any route (not just injection) can put a person at risk for getting HIV. Drug and alcohol intoxication affect judgement and can lead to unsafe sexual practices, which put people at risk for getting HIV or transmitting it to someone else.


Biological effects of drugs

Drug abuse and addiction can affect a person's overall health, thereby altering susceptibility to HIV and progression of AIDS. Drugs of abuse and HIV both affect the brain. Research has shown that HIV causes greater neuronal injury and cognitive impairment among Methamphetamine abusers than among HIV patients who do not abuse drugs. In animal studies, Methamphetamine has been shown to increase the amount of HIV in brain cells.


Drug abuse treatment

Since the late 1980s, research has shown that treating drug abuse is an effective way to prevent the spread of HIV. Drug abusers in treatment stop or reduce their drug use and related risk behaviours, including drug injection and unsafe sexual practices. Drug treatment programs also serve an important role in disseminating current information on HIV/AIDS and related diseases, providing counselling and testing services, and offering referrals for medical and social services.


Mixing anti-retro-viral medication & drugs

For people living with HIV/AIDS, the use of occasional recreational drugs may seem tempting during periods of good health. But, for those taking anti-retro-viral medication, this is extremely dangerous.


Both recreational drugs and anti-retro-viral medication are metabolised in the liver. As both drugs are broken down by the same pathway, a drug like Ritonavir would have the primary route, leaving the other drug unmetabolised. A fatality reported in the UK was directly linked to this process.


The post-mortem of this patient, who had consumed two and a half ecstasy tablets, showed that there was an equivalent of 22 ecstasy tablets in his liver, hence the overdose. Other drugs, like cocaine, could inhibit the absorption of valuable medication by as much as 50%! Even alcohol is seen as a contributing factor to reduced absorption levels.

Clinics, Drug Rehabs etc.

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