Alcohol, drug use compound problems in treating HIV

Posted on 08 Aug 2007 at 5:59pm
By David Webb Staff Writer

Therapist urges HIV-positive clients to avoid using mind-altering
substances that increase risk by impairing judgment, body’s defenses

People are at their greatest risk of becoming infected with HIV when alcohol or other drugs impair their judgment, and the worst thing they can do their bodies afterwards is to continue indulging in mind-altering substances, according to well-documented HIV research.

It’s a well-known risk, but one that too many HIV-positive people continue to take, said Susan Wisneski, a therapist for Legacy Counseling Center. The therapist said she always advises HIV-positive people to avoid alcohol use.

“I advise people not to drink if you really want to give yourself the best chance with your medicine and with your HIV,” Wisneski said. “Alcohol puts an extra strain on your body.”

Wisneski said the problem is compounded because people who are newly infected with HIV often try to manage their anxiety through the use of alcohol and other drugs. One study found that 41 percent of HIV-infected patients met the criteria for alcoholism, according to a University of Louisville publication.

“When they find out they are positive, they can go into a real denial and be using drugs to medicate their fears about being positive and run their immune system even further into the ground,” Wisneski said. “Hopefully, they do come to a place where they realize they are going to live with this and decide to invest in living instead of harming themselves more.”

Abstaining from alcohol use appears to be critical to longtime survival for people living with HIV, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol increases susceptibility to infections such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and viral Hepatitis C, and it is believed to increase the severity of AIDS-related dementia, according to the group’s publications.

Wisneski said her readings in medical journals has convinced her that the combination of HIV medicines and alcohol and illegal drug use puts HIV-positive people on a course to destruction.

“Most of the medicines have a level of toxicity on the organs and putting another poison on top of that further stresses the organs,” Wisneski said.

Wisneski said HIV-positive people who drink and do drugs get improper nutrition and often forget to take their medications. That leads to a failure of the medication, she said.

“Their medicines can no longer work for them if they are not adherent,” Wisneski said. “People are more non-adherent when they are using substances.”

Wisneski said HIV-positive people are at a risk of rationalizing alcohol use as beneficial to them.

“It’s one of the worst drugs, and it’s a legal one so people can always justify it,” Wisneski said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to bring back a temperance movement, but from a healthy, holistic standpoint, it serves no healthy purpose.”

A glass of wine every night might be beneficial for heart conditions and hardening of the arteries, but it’s not appropriate advice for HIV-positive people, she said.

“That’s not what our clients are facing,” Wisneski said.

Some researchers believe that alcohol and drug use even occasional binge drinking may increase the body’s susceptibility to becoming infected by HIV beyond the known behavioral effects related to impaired judgment.

E-mail webb@dallasvoice.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 10, 2007

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