Many people use alcohol and drugs to have fun, lower inhibitions, and increase sexual arousal. We don’t want to be a total bummer, but it’s important to consider that these good feelings can also lead to increased risk taking. Find out more about below.
How are alcohol, drugs, and smoking related to HIV and other STDs?
Drug and alcohols can play a big role in the spread of HIV and other STDs. Here are some of the ways:
- Injection drug use is a leading cause of HIV in the United States. If you inject drugs (or steroids), you can get HIV from sharing used needles or other equipment (“works”) with an infected person. You can also then pass HIV to your sex and drug-using partners.
- Drinking alcohol or taking other drugs can also increase your risk for HIV and other STDs. Being drunk or high affects your ability to make safe choices and lowers your inhibitions, leading you to take risks you’re less likely to take when sober, such as having sex without a condom.
- Any kind of drug use can lead to HIV transmission when sex is traded for drugs or other high-risk behaviors take place while under the influence of drugs.
What’s all the buzz about “crystal meth” and other drugs?
Methamphetamine or “meth” or “crystal meth” ( “crank,” “ice,” or “speed”) is a stimulant drug that is very addictive. It can increase sexual arousal while reducing your inhibitions. Because of this, and because it can be injected, meth use has been linked with increased numbers of STDs and HIV in some populations including “men who have sex with men” (MSM). It can also lead to many other issues such as losing one’s job, losing teeth, extreme weight loss, and pushing away friends and family.
MSM who use meth may increase their sexual risk factors (for example, they may use condoms less often, have more sex partners, or engage in practices that put them at more risk for HIV infection, such as unprotected receptive anal sex) and perhaps their HIV-related drug-use risk factors (for example, injecting meth instead of smoking or snorting it).
Meth is not the only drug that gay men are using. Cocaine (“coke”), ecstasy (“x” or “e”), nitrites (“poppers”), and marijuana (“weed” or “ganja”), among others are also quite popular. These drugs can also impact sexual arousal and lower your inhibitions… and lead you to unsafe sex and drug sharing. Remember, any drug can also have other serious effects on your health and can interact with alcohol or other medications you might be taking.
For people who are currently living with HIV, substance abuse negatively affects their health and well-being in a variety of ways, including:
- Drugs like cocaine and heroin can seriously affect your circulatory and respiratory systems, and overdoses can lead to death.
- Meth can lead to tooth decay, significant weight loss, impaired blood circulation, liver damage, kidney damage, and damage to specific receptors in the brain.
- Drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine have been known to affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to infection. Nicotine affects your circulation, making healing of tissues more difficult and wounds more prone to infection.
- Some substances interfere with HIV medications and other medication that may be a part of the HIV plan of care.
- Recreational drugs can make you feel really good—but what goes up must come down. Coming down from a high from many substances can create feelings of exhaustion, pain, confusion, irritability, and/or depression.
- Getting high can make it hard for you to remember to take your HIV meds.
- Getting high can make it hard for you to remember to make or keep doctor appointments and clinic visits.
- Using drugs can affect housing, social support networks, employment, relationships, etc.—all things that can be very important for someone living with HIV.
- Substance abuse can cause new psychiatric issues and make previous conditions worse (including depression and schizophrenia).
- Using drugs may impair your judgment about sexual risk behaviors—making you less likely to use safer-sex practices and increasing the risk that you could transmit HIV or get another STD that could complicate your HIV.
And what’s the big deal with tobacco, anyway?
You might be thinking, they’re just cigarettes or it’s just a hookah pipe, what harm can they really do? But did you know that tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States?
Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking. Despite these risks, approximately 46.6 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco, cigars, and pipes also have deadly consequences, including all types of cancers, such as lung, larynx, esophageal, and oral.
Where can you go to find drug treatment or rehab?
If you’re ready to quit or need help, there are several resources in Santa Clara County. Check out Want Care? to see what’s near you.
Also, if you have HIV, you can also use the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Services Locator, for information on places you can find help to quit using drugs (as well as information on HIV testing and other services).
You’re not ready to quit, but how can you protect yourself from HIV and other STDs?
Quitting or getting into rehab is the best way to reduce your drug-related risk of getting HIV. But if you’re not ready to quit, you can at least protect yourself and others from HIV and other diseases by using clean equipment. Syringe services programs let you turn in your dirty needles and equipment for clean ones. They can also give you information on where you can get help to quit drugs. Also, remember to use condoms!
Here’s info for the Santa Clara County Needle Exchange Program:
Needle Exchange Program
(24-hour Voice Mail)
1 (888) 308-1110