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Learn the link between drug abuse and the spread of HIV infection in the United States.
How are Drug Abuse and HIV Related?

A young girl sitting in a café is sending a text message about HIV/AIDS to her friendDrug abuse and addiction have been linked with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. Although injection drug use is well known in this regard, the role that non-injection drug abuse plays in the spread of HIV is less recognized. This is partly due to the addictive and intoxicating effects of many drugs, which can alter judgment and inhibition and lead people to engage in impulsive and unsafe behaviors.

Injection drug use. People typically associate drug abuse and HIV/AIDS with injection drug use and needle sharing. When injection drug users share "equipment"-such as needles, syringes, and other drug injection paraphernalia-HIV can be transmitted between users. Other infections-such as hepatitis C-can also be spread this way. Hepatitis C can cause liver disease and permanent liver damage.

Poor judgment and risky behavior. Drug abuse by any route (not just injection) can put a person at risk for getting HIV. Drug and alcohol intoxication affect judgment and can lead to unsafe sexual practices, which put people at risk for getting HIV or transmitting it to someone else.

Biological effects of drugs. Drug abuse and addiction can affect a person's overall health, thereby altering susceptibility to HIV and progression of AIDS. Drugs of abuse and HIV both affect the brain. Research has shown that HIV causes greater injury to cells in the brain and cognitive impairment among methamphetamine abusers than among HIV patients who do not abuse drugs. In animal studies, methamphetamine has been shown to increase the amount of HIV in brain cells[*].

Drug abuse treatment. Since the late 1980s, research has shown that treating drug abuse is an effective way to prevent the spread of HIV. Drug abusers in treatment stop or reduce their drug use and related risk behaviors, including drug injection and unsafe sexual practices. Drug treatment programs also serve an important role in providing current information on HIV/AIDS and related diseases, counseling and testing services, and referrals for medical and social services.

* Marcondes, M.C. et al. “Methamphetamine increases brain viral load and activates natural killer cells in simian immunodeficiency virus-infected monkeys. Am. J. Pathol. 2010. 177(1):355-361.
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The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal biomedical and behavioral research agency of the United States Government. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.