Ask Our Experts

Watch Our Experts explain how Alcohol and Drugs are linked to HIV. Please contact the Anonymous Clinic at The Thai Red Cross AIDS Research for HIV testing, treatment, care and support.

Alcohol Risks

Alcohol is highly addictive and tolerance develops quickly with severe withdrawal symptoms including nervousness, tremors, seizures and hallucinations. It lowers your inhibitions, increases the chance of impaired judgment as well as increased sociability. Some of the side effects of alcohol include dizziness, nausea, slurred speech, slow reflexes and sleepiness. Overdose causes loss of motor control, blackouts, passing out and in extreme cases, death. Long-term use damages the liver, brain and other organs, which can result in mental and physical problems. Drinking too much alcohol at once can cause death through acute alcohol toxicity. Women, who drink during pregnancy, can cause their babies to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Mixing alcohol with medications, or illegal drugs is dangerous. Combine that with driving and you can endanger everyone!

People with alcohol use disorders are more likely than the general population to contract HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Similarly, people with HIV are more likely to abuse alcohol at some time during their lives . Alcohol use is associated with high-risk sexual behaviors and injection drug use, two major modes of HIV transmission.

Concerns about HIV have increased as recent trends suggest a resurgence of the epidemic among men who have sex with men , as well as dramatic increases in the proportion of cases transmitted heterosexually . In persons already infected, the combination of heavy drinking and HIV has been associated with increased medical and psychiatric complications, delays in seeking treatment , difficulties with HIV medication compliance , and poorer HIV treatment outcomes. Decreasing alcohol use in people who have HIV or who are at risk for becoming infected reduces the spread of HIV and the diseases associated with it.

Alcohol and HIV Transmission
People who abuse alcohol are more likely to engage in behaviors that place them at risk for contracting HIV. For example, rates of injection drug use are high among alcoholics in treatment , and increasing levels of alcohol ingestion are associated with greater injection drug–related risk behaviors, including needle sharing.

A history of heavy alcohol use has been correlated with a lifetime tendency toward high-risk sexual behaviors, including multiple sex partners, unprotected intercourse, sex with high-risk partners (e.g., injection drug users, prostitutes), and the exchange of sex for money or drugs . There may be many reasons for this association. For example, alcohol can act directly on the brain to reduce inhibitions and diminish risk perception.

However, expectations about alcohol’s effects may exert a more powerful influence on alcohol-involved sexual behavior. Studies consistently demonstrate that people who strongly believe that alcohol enhances sexual arousal and performance are more likely to practice risky sex after drinking.

Some people report deliberately using alcohol during sexual encounters to provide an excuse for socially unacceptable behavior or to reduce their conscious awareness of risk .

Finally, the association between drinking levels and high-risk sexual behavior does not imply that alcohol necessarily plays a direct role in such behavior or that it causes high-risk behavior on every occasion (19–22). For example, bars and drinking parties serve as convenient social settings for meeting potential sexual partners . In addition, alcohol abuse occurs frequently among people whose lifestyle or personality predisposes them to high-risk behaviors in general.


Sex, Alcohol and Drugs

Drink and drugs both go hand in hand with socialising. People usually do these things at parties, hanging out with friends, at bars or at clubs. Why? Because drink and drugs can make you feel more relaxed, confident, and less inhibited. When you're feeling this way in a social situation, it’s more likely that you’ll meet someone you like and want to hook up with – maybe even have sex with. The trouble is, that person may be someone that you wouldn’t have gone near if you’d been sober. Even worse, you might be so drunk or high that you forget (or simply don’t bother) to use a condom, which could lead to unwanted pregnancy, or a sexually transmited infection(STI) being passed on.

Alcohol and other drug use is linked to risky sexual behavior and poses significant threats to the health of adolescents. Substance abuse may impair adolescents' ability to make judgments about sex and contraception, placing them at increased risk for unplanned pregnancy, sexual assault, or becoming infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), including HIV/AIDS.

We know the AIDS virus can be transmitted through sharing hypodermic needles. Less is known about the dangerous role of alcohol and other drugs in sexual behavior that may lead to STDs and HIV/AIDS. To compound matters, there is also considerable evidence that alcohol and other drugs weaken the immune system, thereby increasing susceptibility to infection and disease.
Consider the following statistics:

    •    The use of alcohol and other drugs can affect judgment and lead to taking serious sexual risks. There were 18,540 cases of AIDS among 13- to 24-year-olds reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the end of 1994.
    •    About 75 percent of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse at least once in their lives; about 20 percent have had more than four sexual partners by their senior year.
    •    Studies show that adolescents are less likely to use condoms when having sex after drinking alcohol than when sober. This places them at even higher risk for HIV infection, STDs, and unwanted pregnancy.
    •    A survey of high school students found that 18 percent of females and 39 percent of males say it is acceptable for a boy to force sex if the girl is stoned or drunk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV/AIDS has been the sixth leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds in the United States for over three years. One in five of the new AIDS cases diagnosed is in the 20 to 29 year age group, meaning that HIV transmission occurred during the teen years. Additionally, more than half of new cases of HIV infection in 1994 were related to drug use.

There is still much to be learned about the relationship between alcohol and other drugs and sexual behavior. During the past decade, teens reported higher levels of sexual activity at earlier ages, experienced more unplanned pregnancies, and suffered higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases. To reduce the incidence of these problems in the future, prevention of alcohol and other drug abuse must be a top priority.