Alcohol Consumption Riskier For People With HIV

By McCarton Ackerman 02/11/16

A recent study reveals that even moderate alcohol consumption may be more dangerous for people with HIV.

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Alcohol Consumption Riskier For People With HIV
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In addition to medication regimens and other measures that people with HIV take to stay healthy, a new study suggests that quitting drinking should be added to the list because alcohol is more harmful for people with HIV.

The findings, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, came from researchers at Yale University. They analyzed data from 18,000 HIV-positive patients and over 42,000 people not infected with the virus, all of whom were treated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs between 2008-2012.

The scientists found that HIV patients who had just one or two drinks per day were at greater risk for alcohol-related health issues and even death compared to those who were HIV-negative. This was true even for those with suppressed viral loads through modern antiretroviral treatment (ART).

“Even among people on ART with suppressed viral load, who are much less sick in general, there is still an added effect of alcohol among those individuals than people without HIV," said lead researcher Dr. Amy Justice. "It suggests the threshold for safe alcohol consumption is likely different for people with HIV.”

But because of the effects that alcohol has on patients undergoing ART, many HIV patients end up skipping their meds in order to drink. A November 2012 study involving 200 people taking antiretroviral drugs for HIV found that 51% of them stopped their medication regimen while drinking, which resulted in showing higher viral loads. The findings were published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The higher viral loads were partially due to the fact that HIV medications need to be taken consistently or drug resistance can develop that prevents the pills from working at all. Lead author Seth Kalichman, a professor at the University of Connecticut, confirmed that "the harms caused by missing their medications far outweigh the harms caused by mixing the two, if the person doesn't have liver disease.”

However, many of those who didn’t skip their medications while drinking also didn’t follow their treatment guidelines. Nearly 31% reported not taking their medications until the alcohol was fully out of their system, while 36% said they didn’t adhere well to their prescriptions.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.