Many HIV Patients Skip Meds to Drink

Many HIV Patients Skip Meds to Drink

By May Wilkerson 11/01/12

Researchers find that 51% of HIV patients chose alcohol over their meds—when in fact, it's much safer to take both.

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Drinkers shouldn't skip their HIV meds.
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Just over half the HIV-positive participants in a recent study skipped their medications in order to drink—largely due to misconceptions about the dangers of mixing antiretroviral meds and alcohol, researchers believe. The University of Connecticut study followed 200 people taking antiretroviral drugs for HIV over the course of a year, and found that 51% halted their medication regimes while drinking, showing higher viral loads as a result. Researchers blame a widespread belief that mixing alcohol and HIV drugs is dangerous, which they say is false. Although doctors do often discourage HIV patients from boozing, this is because it can interrupt the effectiveness of the drugs, not because it's actually a "toxic" combination. In fact, it's far more dangerous to skip these meds than to drink while taking them. "The harms caused by missing their medications far outweigh the harms caused by mixing the two, if the person doesn't have liver disease" says Seth Kalichman, professor and lead author of the study. Stopping medication is dangerous for patients as it can allow the virus to surge; taking the meds inconsistently can also lead to drug resistance and prevent the pills from working at all. The study highlights a need for better education and clearer instructions from doctors. Kalichman is optimistic: "We think it may be a pretty simple fix, just educating patients."