Despite four decades of research and information, there are still several misconceptions many have about HIV and addiction. Part of this confusion stems from misinformation that circulates about HIV/AIDS and how a person becomes infected with this disease. In other cases, the mix-up happens because of misconceptions about the conditions of HIV and addiction.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the body’s natural defenses against infection. With proper treatment and a healthy lifestyle, individuals infected with HIV can live long, full, productive lives. AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is merely the final stage of HIV infection. Substance use disorder (SUD) is the clinical name for addiction and refers to the propensity to use controlled substances, often illegally obtained, in an uncontrolled way.
HIV and addiction can be closely connected. A quarter of people infected with HIV become infected by sharing needles. This happens most often with intravenous drug users. People who suffer from substance use and who are infected with HIV will have a hard time battling the disease. These individuals need to get healthy and sober so they can avoid complications from dual infection.
At the Crossroads of Epidemics: HIV and Addiction
For over four decades, the United States has suffered under one of the most destructive pandemics in history: the HIV epidemic. During this time we have also endured a more silent, but no less deadly disease: addiction. These two epidemics simultaneously throttle our society and lead us to find ways to overcome both. Problematically, they both intersect in quite a few ways.
The early days of the HIV epidemic were marred by misinformation and government negligence. Because early reports linked the virus to homosexual men, the U.S. government adopted a policy of malicious inaction. The war on drugs led to inaction on progressive fronts. Government policy became to imprison offenders rather than treat them.
In a twist of irony, one-quarter of HIV infections occur through sharing needles in intravenous drug use. Therefore, HIV and addiction are two diseases that are inextricably linked. Additionally, research shows that the use of alcohol, opioids, and amphetamines increases the risk of HIV infection. This often occurs because substance use decreases sexual inhibitions and may lead to unsafe sexual practices.
Connections Between HIV and Substance Use
Treatment for HIV varies, but, in general, people infected with the virus can control their symptoms with a combination of medications called a cocktail. This is the basis for one of the biggest risks of continuing substance abuse while infected with HIV. Controlled substances often interfere with or even suppress entirely the cocktail’s effects. In addition, drug use can lower the immune system further, which is dangerous in HIV-infected individuals.
HIV and addiction are two very dangerous illnesses if left unchecked. We cannot currently cure HIV, but we can help someone leave addiction in their past. It is possible to live with HIV and be addiction-free. But doing so requires hard work and the help of a dedicated care team on your side.
Treatment at the Intersection of HIV/AIDS and Addiction
HIV and addiction can be hard to manage, but it is harder for those who have a triple diagnosis: HIV and addiction, and mental illness. One of the reasons individuals who suffer from SUDs may also suffer from mental illness is the phenomenon of self-medicating. People will often use controlled substances to treat psychiatric illnesses rather than seek the help they need through proper channels.
Other times, under-served populations may not seek the psychiatric help they need due to systemic barriers. LGBTQ individuals, for example, may face extreme prejudice. That is why welcoming and affirming care like the care at Restoration Recovery is so important in overcoming the challenges of HIV and addiction.
The Effects of Drug Abuse on the HIV Epidemic
HIV and addiction are both diseases that can impact anyone, anywhere. Those of us who do not suffer from these illnesses are still affected by them. We feel the pain of friends and family and of parents who lose their children to one or both of these deadly diseases. Our hearts hurt for children who lose parents and siblings to HIV and addiction.
Continuing to use drugs allows HIV to run roughshod on the body and the immune system. Particularly, people infected with HIV who suffer from addiction may experience serious neurological consequences. Studies show that when HIV is present in the brain, cognitive injury is worsened.
Infection and Transmission: Risky Behaviors in HIV and Addiction
Using drugs or alcohol does indeed increase the chance an individual can become infected with HIV. In addition to the sharing of needles, drugs and alcohol inhibit the naturally controlled responses that regulate our behavior. In other words, when an individual is impaired by drugs and alcohol, they risk engaging in unprotected sex.
Since HIV is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids like blood and semen, anal or vaginal sex is one way an individual may be infected. Sharing needles and other equipment to inject drugs also causes infection risk. However, it should be noted that studies show a decreased likelihood of infection during oral sex unless a cut or wound in the mouth is present.
Dual Treatment for HIV and Addiction
Medical detox is one of the primary ways a care team may treat an individual suffering from HIV and addiction. This type of care allows the team to use medications that alleviate addiction symptoms safely with the client’s HIV cocktail regimen.
Overcoming HIV and addiction will likely also be about overcoming trauma. Unfortunately, not only is the onset of these diseases traumatic, but addiction also often stems from preexisting trauma. At Restoration Recovery, our goal is to help our clients get well and find the peace they need to overcome the trauma they hold inside and live a life with HIV that is addiction-free.
Over the last four decades, a number of pieces of misinformation have muddied the discussion of HIV and hampered treatment and education about the disease. HIV is a serious disease, but it is possible to live a normal, healthy life with proper treatment. However, it is not possible to live a long, full life with addiction, and certainly not with HIV and addiction. Substance use disorder takes a heavy toll on the body, and while HIV can be controlled through medication, controlled substances often lower the immune system of HIV-positive individuals. If you are HIV positive and suffering from addiction, call the professionals at Restoration Recovery at (888) 290-0925 for your treatment needs.