HIV/AIDS and Substance Abuse and Addiction
Drug abuse and addiction have been linked to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency disorder) 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 in contact with body fluids carrying the virus. This can be through damaged tissue or direct injection into the bloodstream.
Unsafe or risky sexual behavior is the most common way of contracting HIV. 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 another common way HIV is transmitted among people suffering from substance use disorders. 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 acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or 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 quicker 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 he or she is in. The only way to accurately determine an HIV diagnosis is to get tested.
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:
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth ulcers
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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, but individuals are highly contagious and can spread infection to others during this time.
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 your body to produce the antibodies that HIV tests detect. Most often, people are encouraged to test three months after possible infection to be certain of the results.
Treatment and HIV/AIDS
Despite an increase in awareness and treatment options for HIV over the past 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 what you’re going through and can help you find peace and recovery.
I got honest about my HIV status. Not that I denied it, but in the world of addiction, it wasn’t talked about. I have been healthy for the past 30 plus years with HIV. My recovery is the prime reason for my health. I have adopted a little special needs boy who is also HIV [positive], in addition to being an amputee. I have obtained an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s [degree], and a graduate degree… I am beyond happy most of the time and when I am not — I look at my little boy and realize how lucky we are to have one another!
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If you have already been infected with HIV, it’s important to understand the role your drug abuse or addiction has in the progression of this 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 that won’t harm your immune system, you will have the highest chance of decreasing HIV’s progression and living a full, healthy life.
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