Co-Dependent Relationship, HIV and Substance Use Disorder

HIV/Aids Awareness Month commences every year with World Aids Day, on December 1st, when people around the globe converge to fight against HIV/AIDS, to show their support for those currently living with HIV and to remember the lives lost to HIV/AIDS -related illnesses. Many people living with HIV/AIDS have more than this disease in common, but also the way it was transmitted to them, substance use.

There has been a great deal of research that has shown the interrelatedness between substance use disorder and HIV. Injection Drug Use (IDU) has been shown to be a direct channel for the transmission of HIV due to needle sharing. The Center of Disease and Prevention states that, drinking alcohol and ingesting, smoking, or inhaling drugs are also associated with increased risk for HIV. Using drugs and/or alcohol can interfere with one’s ability to make clear choices, which can lead to having unprotected sex (sex without a condom, having multiple partners), making it more likely for someone to get or transmit HIV. For people living with HIV, using drugs and/or alcohol can accelerate disease progression and can make it difficult for one to keep track of taking their daily supply of their life saving antiretroviral medication.

Studies have also shown that binge drinking has been proven to be an HIV risk factor due to the probability of people participating in unprotected sexual behaviors. Opioid use has been directly linked to a recent HIV outbreak due to shared needle use and/or unprotected sex. Methamphetamine (“meth”) use has been linked to HIV transmission due to it being injectable and to it often leading to unprotected sexual behaviors. An addiction to substances creates a lifestyle of desperation often making people do things that in their sober life they would have never imagined doing, and at the end of the day resulting in a sobering HIV diagnosis.

This year marked the 31st year of the worldwide recognition of Worlds AIDS Day. Many of the people that have been diagnosed with HIV since 1988 did not fall into the stereotypical difinition of the type of people who get HIV (Gay men). They are more often people who struggle with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.

Heterosexuals and people who inject drugs continue to be affected by HIV. In 2017:

Heterosexuals accounted for 24% of HIV diagnoses.
Heterosexual men accounted for 7% (2,829) of HIV diagnoses.
Heterosexual women accounted for 16% (6,341) of HIV diagnoses.
People who inject drugs accounted for 6% of HIV diagnoses.

Alejandra Luna LCSW, Mental Health Therapist/LGBTQ+ Specialist