Everything from alcohol to crystal meth fueling epidemic
We’re 26 years into the AIDS epidemic, but there appears to still be no real relief in sight from the spiraling rate of new infections.
Young and old alike continue to become infected with HIV, despite a quarter-century of warnings about the dangers of unprotected sex. It’s a bedevilment to HIV service workers, but there’s really not that much mystery as to why the rates continue to rise.
The culprits are addiction and abuse of alcohol and other substances, according to Melissa Grove, executive director of Legacy Counseling Center.
“This is a growing trend, and it’s been an ongoing problem,” Grove said this week. “It contributes greatly to new HIV infections. When people are using and abusing drugs, they are more likely to participate in behaviors that would make them more prone to becoming infected.”
Grove said that any mild-altering drug even alcohol can lead to bad judgment when it comes to sexual activity, but the crystal meth epidemic has created a new phenomena. She referred to it as meth-induced “hypersexuality,” a condition that often leads to the meth user indulging in hours or even days of sexual activity with multiple partners,
Add that to the false perception that HIV medications represent a “cure-all” today, and the danger of a young person getting infected becomes even more probable.
“Younger people have not seen a lot of HIV and AIDS in the way a lot of us older people have,” Grove said. “They’re more likely to think it’s not going to happen to them.”
Grove said multiple studies have shown that the incidence of alcohol and drug abuse is higher among LGBT people than their straight counterparts, and coming out often involves emotional pain. It doesn’t take young people long at all to figure out the pain can be numbed with alcohol and drugs.
It all comes together to make young LGBT people particularly vulnerable to addiction and to HIV infections.
Susan Wisneski, a therapist for Legacy Counseling Center, said new infections are more likely than not to have occurred during an intoxicated state caused by alcohol or other drugs.
“They might not even be alcoholics or drug addicts,” Wisneski said. “It could be a one-time experience that they have abused a substance, gotten impaired judgment and became infected with HIV. You’ve got a lot of people who just don’t care at the moment because they are high.”
Wisneski said the LGBT community is so oriented to the nightclub scene that it is easy for young people to lose their perspective.
“I know people who really don’t think it is abnormal to drink to the point of intoxication on a regular basis,” Wisneski said. “That is not healthy. The larger percentage of the population does not drink and get drunk on a regular basis.”
Wisneski noted that for people who have become infected with HIV the use of alcohol and other drugs presents even greater complications Grove said people should understand the risks of alcohol and drug abuse and be careful not to put themselves at risk by overindulging when they socialize in nightclubs and at other venues.
“There’s obviously nothing wrong with people getting together [at nightclubs] to have a good time, but for some people who have addictive personalities, that could feed the problems,” Grove said.
So at 26 years into the epidemic and counting, it seems more important than ever for people to realize that becoming intoxicated puts drinkers and drug takers at risk of a far worse hangover than anything they ever imagined.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 10, 2007