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AIDS Awareness and Substance Abuse

by Ginni Correa ❘  

Observing AIDS Awareness Month

December is AIDS awareness month, and thanks to research and preventative services, many of those living with HIV/AIDS are able to live long and healthy lives with the help of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Although ART has increasingly improved the quality of life for many, approximately 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today, and about 1 in 7 are unaware of their status. According to UNAIDS, the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, people who inject drugs are 22 times more likely to acquire HIV than the rest of the population. Many people are afraid of seeking rehabilitation or getting tested due to cultural stigma surrounding illegal drug use and lack of access to prevention, treatment, and healthcare. Key factors in reducing the risk of transmission include early intervention and most importantly, the integration of substance abuse treatment with HIV treatment programs.

Who Is at Risk and Why?

Substance abuse increases the risk of transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which can develop into AIDS when left untreated. The virus is primarily transmitted through the exchange of blood or other bodily fluids by the use of needles, syringes, and other IDU (injection drug use) equipment such as cookers and cotton or by unprotected sexual contact. Other commonly used substances that increase risk include alcohol, opioids, methamphetamine, and crack cocaine because people under the influence are more likely to engage in dangerous sexual behaviors such having sex without condoms. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), about 1 In 10 new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. are caused by injection drug use or male-to-male sexual contact and injection drug use.

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Early Intervention and Integrative Care

Over the past few years many organizations have researched and implemented different outreach programs and access to preventative care in order to increase AIDS awareness, decrease new cases of HIV, and encourage treatment for those who are HIV positive. Early intervention is a good first step in acknowledging HIV/AIDS issues in substance abuse treatment and vice versa. Intervention emphasizes on testing, treating, and following-up and by combining therapies and the use of case managements for those with or at high risk for HIV/AIDS. 

Research shows that HIV prevention is essential in rehabilitation settings, and integrating treatment services is the best practice for treating at-risk populations. The most effective programs combine traditional and non-traditional treatment components such as nutritional counseling, psychiatric services, support groups, and a care team that is trained in HIV/AIDS medical care. Case studies have provided evidence that substance abuse treatment is also HIV prevention and helps reduce HIV-related mortality. Rehabilitation programs can provide early intervention, share information on risk reduction, test for HIV, and refer people to appropriate medical and social services.

Promoting AIDS Awareness by Seeking Help

Substance abuse is a high-risk factor for HIV/AIDS, especially among injection drug users. Prevention begins with getting tested and finding a treatment program that addresses different physiological and psychological needs.

If you have already been infected with HIV and are struggling with addiction, it’s important to understand the role that drug abuse has in the progression of this disease. Treatment programs and case managers are in place that can help you get on the path of sobriety. Through integrative treatment and regular medication, you can live a full and healthy life.

If you need help finding an addiction treatment center near you, please contact a treatment provider today.

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