Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)—the pathogen responsible for the current pandemic of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)—targets the body’s immune system. HIV infection puts a person at risk for a multitude of diseases that someone with a healthy immune system generally would fight off. When HIV was recognized in the 1980s, testing positive for HIV infection was, in fact, a death sentence. Now, however, the availability of anti-HIV medications has made living with the virus a reality. Patients who stick to a careful medication regimen (i.e., taking several medicines at specific times throughout the day) may live from 20 and 40 years with HIV and do not always die of AIDS-related illnesses.
People with HIV are now living longer and healthier lives. Nevertheless, many challenges remain in preventing both infection with the virus and progression of the disease. One of the many factors that thwarts efforts to prevent the spread of the infection and the treatment of infected patients is the use and abuse of alcohol by those who are at risk for infection or who already are infected. Scientists are gaining a better understanding of the complex relationship between alcohol consumption and HIV infection. Abusing alcohol or other drugs can impair judgment, leading a person to engage in risky sexual behaviors. People who drink also tend to delay getting tested for HIV and, if they do test positive, tend to postpone seeking treatment. When receiving treatment, they may have difficulty following the complex medications regimen. All of these factors increase the likelihood that an infected person will infect others or will go on to develop AIDS.
Alcohol, then, occupies a prominent place in the HIV/AIDS landscape. This Alcohol Alert outlines the role that alcohol has in HIV/AIDS prevention, transmission, and disease progression and touches on recent efforts to reduce these strong, yet preventable, effects. > > > > Read More