Substance Abuse and HIV/AIDS
Substance abuse has the tendency to exacerbate existing health issues, due to the harsh effects on the mind and body associated with the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Few diseases are better examples of this than HIV/AIDS, and by and large, the addiction treatment community doesn’t offer much guidance to people with these conditions.
The result? There are countless addicts with HIV or AIDS, and many aren’t aware of their treatment options.
According to the?Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 1.1 million people in the United States living with HIV in 2014, 15% of whom have not been diagnosed yet. The same source notes that addiction and HIV go hand-in-hand, with use of injection drugs being the second leading cause of transmission.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, the risks you face could be higher than you could imagine. If you have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in the past, you have ample treatment options for your condition and your addiction. Call The Treatment Center at (866) 295-6003 to speak to one of our addiction counselors and learn how you can benefit from one of our comprehensive treatment options today.
First, What Is HIV/AIDS?
HIV is an abbreviation for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Its a viral infection that causes the human immune system to not work as well as it does in healthy individuals, which puts people with the condition at risk for other infectious diseases, and some cancers,?according to a government health resource.
AIDS is the final, most advanced stage of the HIV virus. AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and was once a major cause of death in minority communities, but modern medicine has managed to reduce the chance of death from AIDS by around 80%. This means that both HIV and AIDS are treatable, and in most cases, people infected with the diseases can live a normal life.
According to the CDC, if HIV goes untreated, it progresses to AIDS in about ten years. This is because HIV is measured by a count of CD4, a type of white blood cell crucial to fighting disease. HIV targets and destroys CD4 cells, and when this count drops below 200, the condition is viewed as AIDS,?according to the Mayo Clinic.
AIDS can also be identified by a set of what the Mayo Clinic calls “AIDS-defining complications”, which are diseases that a person contracts due to their weak immune system, including tuberculosis, a certain type of meningitis, other viral and bacterial infections and a few types of cancer.
How is HIV Transmitted?
Because of the potential for HIV treatment with modern medicine, the number of new AIDS cases nationwide has dropped greatly over the past few decades, which is why when we talk about transmission risk, we focus on HIV. With that in mind, HIV and AIDS are transmitted through the same routes.
The medical community uses the term “viral load”?to assess how likely it is for a given HIV+ person to transmit the disease to another. HIV treatment with modern medicine greatly lowers a patient’s viral load, making it more difficult to contract the disease from that person.
The CDC assesses?the greatest risk of contracting HIV?through blood transfusions, claiming that if you receive a blood transfusion from a person who is HIV positive, there’s a 92.5% chance you will contract the virus.
The seconds greatest risk lies in sexual contact, with anal intercourse posing a higher risk than vaginal.
Third on the list of risk behaviors is intravenous drug use, which is how many drug users and abusers contract and transmit their infections within addicted communities, making the issue a key interest for addicts.
Substance Abuse and HIV/AIDS
Substance abusers have a particularly high risk for contracting and transmitting HIV and AIDS, for two reasons,?according to HIV.gov:
- The first is that intravenous drug users often share equipment, especially needles. Any injection drug users share common misconceptions about their risk of contracting blood-borne diseases. For example, people think as long as they don’t use the same needle, they aren’t at risk. As AVERT,?a global source of information on HIV and AIDS, says, this isn’t true. If addicts use the same water to cook drugs with, cooking equipment or other ingredients, they are still at high risk to transmit HIV.
- The second is that people addicted to drugs and alcohol may take part in irresponsible behavior, including unprotected sex. Almost any sexual contact with a person who is HIV positive without protection carries some level of risk, but many substance abusers operate with clouded judgment due to their condition.
If you find yourself battling with addiction, the risk of contracting a blood-borne disease is a compelling reason to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Limiting Your Risk of HIV
To limit your risks of contracting HIV, it can be as simple as having your partners and yourself tested regularly to ensure that sexual contact doesn’t come with the risk of transmission. If one or both of you have HIV, using anti-viral treatment can greatly lower the chance of transmission to others and if one of you is HIV+ and one isn’t, then treatment plus the use of barrier protection during sexual contact is the best way to mitigate risk.
For drug users, it’s safest to keep all equipment separate between a user with HIV and a user without. Cookers, cleaning equipment, and water can all carry microscopic amounts of infected blood and cause unintentional exposure, so constant vigilance is called for when using intravenous drugs.
Of course, the best way to ensure that safe injection methods are used is to seek treatment for substance abuse and limit risk altogether.
If you’d like to assess and find out how to reduce your risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, the CDC?offers a risk reduction tool on their website.
Effects of HIV/AIDS on Addicts
Using drugs and alcohol can have particularly negative effects on the systems of people with HIV/AIDS. The US Department of Veterans Affairs reports the following?risks with continuing to abuse drugs?after a diagnosis of HIV:
- Heavy drug and alcohol use can lower the immune system, exacerbating the effects of the disease.
- Over a long period of time, drug and alcohol abuse can damage the liver, causing the body to respond less effectively to HIV and AIDS treatment medications.
- Some recreational drugs may interact with treatment drugs, producing dangerous effects or not allowing them to be as effective as they would be alone.
The Treatment Center is proud to treat addiction in the HIV positive community; we only ask that if you or a loved one check into one of our facilities and is HIV+, you come prepared with 35 days of treatment medication.
Unfortunately, AIDS patients are exclusionary to our treatment program, but if you or a loved one has AIDS and wants to seek treatment for your addiction, we may be able to place you in an appropriate treatment center.
For more information on the wide range of services that The Treatment Center offers to patients with HIV/AIDS, give us a call at (866) 295-6003.