Some of the best information about the effects of drugs and alcohol as it relates to people with HIV has been developed by the United States Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA).
Your Immune System
Smoking marijuana or any other drug irritates the lungs. You may be more likely to get serious lung infections, such as pneumonia.
Other common recreational drugs, such as cocaine or crystal meth, can leave your body dehydrated and exhausted, as well as lead to skin irritation. All of these things can make it easier for you to get infections.
The organ in your body that alcohol and other drugs affect most is your liver. The liver rounds up waste from chemicals that you put in your body. Those chemicals include recreational drugs as well as prescription drugs, such as your HIV medications. A weaker liver means it's less efficient at best.
If you also have hepatitis B or C, your liver is already working very hard to fight the disease itself and deal with the strong drugs that you may be taking for your hepatitis treatment.
Your HIV Meds
Remember that having HIV means a major change has taken place in your body. You may choose to use alcohol and drugs in moderation, but be sure to respect your body. Pay attention to what and how much you eat, drink, smoke, and take into your body.
Certain HIV medications can boost the level of recreational drugs in your system in unexpected and dangerous ways. For example, amphetamines (such as crystal meth) can be present at 3 to 22 times their normal levels in the bloodstream when mixed with an HIV drug called Norvir (ritonavir). That's because Norvir hampers the body's ability to break down these other drugs.
If you are going to take a recreational drug while you are on HIV medication, it is better to start with a very low amount of the recreational drug (as low as 1/4 the normal amount) and allow time to see how it affects you before increasing the amount. Keep in mind that recreational drugs aren't regulated, so you never know exactly how much you are getting.
Although you may feel uncomfortable at first, you should tell your doctor what recreational drugs you are using. That way, your doctor will know how the substances you are using affect your HIV drugs and your overall health. Most likely, your doctor will then be able to explain some things going on in your body.
Practicing Safe Sex
Alcohol can also affect the decisions you make about safe sex. For example, if you have too much to drink, you may not be able to remember where you put the condoms, and decide simply not to use them. These are decisions you probably would not make if you were sober.
These actions put your partner at risk for HIV and put you at risk for other sexually transmitted diseases.
Remember to keep condoms handy in places where you might have sex. Also, try to limit the amount of alcohol you drink if you know you are going to have sex.
HIV And Needles
The safest option is not to share. Use clean needles and syringes each time or keep your own equipment to yourself.
Because of the dangers of injection drug use, the best way to lower your risk is to stop injecting drugs and to enter and complete a substance abuse treatment plan. You can talk to your health care provider about this.
Copyright 2018, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!