Link between Drug Use & HIV/AIDS

Saturday, 07 February 2009 12:28


What is HIV/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, diarrhea and a type of skin 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 is drug abuse and HIV/AIDS linked?
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 in the spread of HIV is less recognized. This is partly due to the addictive and intoxicating effects of many drugs which can alter judgment and inhibition, resulting in people engaging in impulsive and unsafe behaviors.
Injection drug use. People typically associate drug abuse and HIV/AIDS with injection drug use and needle sharing. When injection drug users share "equipment" such as needles, syringes and other drug injection paraphernalia, HIV can be transmitted between users. Other infections-such as hepatitis C-can can also be spread this way. Hepatitis C can cause liver disease and permanent liver damage.

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

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 can either stop or reduce their drug use and related risk behaviors, 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 counseling and testing services, and offering referrals for medical and social services.

How are Teens affected?
Adolescence is a time when young people engage in risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviors that may put them in jeopardy of contracting HIV. Regardless of whether a young person takes drugs, unsafe sexual practices increase a person's risk of contracting HIV. But drugs and alcohol can increase the chances of unsafe behavior by altering judgment and decision-making.