HIV/AIDS And Substance Abuse And Addiction

Drug abuse and addiction have been linked to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) since the epidemic began in the 1970s. There are many aspects of addiction that play a role in the development of HIV/AIDS.

Active addicts have a heightened risk of contracting and transmitting HIV, and drug abuse often worsens the symptoms of an existing infection.

In order for someone to contract HIV, they must come into contact with bodily fluids carrying the virus. This can occur through damaged tissue or direct injection into the bloodstream.

Unsafe or risky sexual behavior is the most common way HIV is contracted. Those who are under the influence of drugs are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior, such as unprotected sex with partners who could be carrying the virus. Intravenous drug use and needle-sharing are other common ways HIV is transmitted among people suffering from substance use disorders (SUDs). Sharing syringes is common among Heroin or Meth users.

How HIV/AIDS Develops

Once someone contracts HIV, the virus attacks their immune system by infecting cells in the body and making them resistant to treatment. These cells then turn into virus-producing machines, infecting other healthy cells.

This process, if left untreated, can cause AIDS. AIDS is a condition that weakens the body’s ability to protect itself from disease. It is also the final stage of HIV infection, although not everyone with HIV develops AIDS.

Those abusing drugs or alcohol can worsen the symptoms of HIV. Drug abuse compromises the immune system, which is already targeted by HIV. It can cause greater cellular injury and cognitive impairment, causing the disease to progress more quickly than it would without the use of substances.

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Symptoms Of HIV/AIDS

Symptoms of HIV vary depending on the individual and the stage of the disease. The only way to accurately determine an HIV diagnosis is through testing.

Not all individuals will experience the same symptoms. Some people will come down with a flu-like illness within 2-4 weeks after the infection has taken place. Others, however, will show no symptoms at all.

Symptoms of HIV/AIDS may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Mouth ulcers

These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. During the early stage of HIV infection, the virus may not show up on a test; individuals are still highly contagious during this time, however.

If an individual is concerned that they may have been exposed to HIV, the best action to take is to get tested. Most HIV tests are able to detect antibodies, which are proteins the body makes as a reaction against the HIV infection. It may take a few weeks for the body to produce the antibodies that HIV tests detect. Most often, people are encouraged to test 3 months after possible infection to be certain of the results.

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Treatment And HIV/AIDS

Despite an increase in awareness of and treatment options for HIV over the past few decades, many people still feel there is a stigma around the disease. Many addiction counselors have experience and training in helping people cope and heal after receiving a positive diagnosis. It’s important to find a knowledgeable and compassionate therapist who understands the nuances of the experience and can help provide peace and recovery.

I got honest about my HIV status…I have been healthy for the past 30 plus years with HIV. My recovery is the prime reason for my health.

- Lenwood, recovering addict for over 26 years

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Find Treatment For Addiction Today

If you have already been infected with HIV, it’s important to understand the role drug abuse or addiction plays in the progression of the disease. Treatment programs are in place that can help get you on the path to sobriety so that you can live a healthy lifestyle. Through regular medication and curbing addictive habits, you can have the highest chance of decreasing HIV’s progression and living a full, healthy life.

If you need help finding an addiction treatment center near you, contact a treatment provider today.



Jeffrey Juergens

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  • Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

David Hampton

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  • A survivor of addiction himself, David Hampton is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach (CPRC) and a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).

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