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Finding Addiction Treatment for Those Affected by HIV / AIDS

Thanks to ongoing advances in medical treatment, anyone who contracts the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, has a chance to live a normal, healthy life.

As the virus is known to attack the body’s immune system, proper medical treatment and living a healthy lifestyle are essential to preventing the virus from overtaking the body.

For someone who engages in drug use, the risk of contracting HIV or worsening its effects increase considerably.

When left untreated, HIV can develop into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, which is the disease form of the virus. If you engage in intravenous or non-injection drug use, it’s important to know the types of risks involved with ongoing use, especially when HIV is already present in the body.

HIV/AIDS Progression

The HIV virus, like many virus types, can lay dormant in the body for several years before any noticeable symptoms draw attention to it.

Someone who contracts HIV may not experience any physical symptoms for as long as seven to 10 years. The virus slowly damages the body’s immune system so symptoms such as, headaches or nausea may be mistaken as common flu-related incidents.

Over time, a person may experience more severe symptoms on a frequent basis as the virus continues to damage the immune system. At the end of the dormancy period, the body’s immune system is essentially destroyed, which is when AIDS starts to take over. AIDS is a disease that develops at the final stage of an HIV infection. Symptoms associated with AIDS include chronic fatigue, headaches, nausea and vomiting.

By the time AIDS sets in, the body’s immune system will have lost a considerable number of its disease-fighting cells, or T-cells. In effect, the virus converts the body’s T-cells into virus cells. The loss of T-cells accounts for why a person gets sick more often as symptoms become worse. Unless you receive regular exams to test for HIV, exposure to the virus can develop into a full-blown AIDS condition over time.

Drug Use Effects

Both intravenous and non-injection drug use can place you at an increased risk for contracting HIV. The virus is transmitted through the blood and mucous membranes. This means you can contract the virus by sharing a syringe with someone who is infected with HIV. As alcohol and other non-injection drugs tend to alter a person’s judgment and inhibitions, this makes it easier to engage in unsafe sexual activities. Under these conditions, HIV can pass through blood, semen or mucous membrane secretions.

Once a person contracts HIV, ongoing drug usage can have a significant effect on how the body responds to the virus.

As drugs are known for their damaging effects on the overall health of the body, the immune system is also affected by ongoing drug use. This means someone who contracts the virus can speed up the damage the virus causes by continuing to use drugs on a frequent basis. Under these conditions, HIV can give way to AIDS a lot sooner than the seven-to-10-year dormancy period.

In addition to the decline in overall health, HIV (and drug use) causes damage to the brain cells. Over time, communications between the body and brain start to breakdown, which paves the way for HIV infections to spread even quicker through the body.

HIV Rates In the United States

In spite of the treatments available to control the spread of HIV in the body and the protective measures that can be taken, the rate of HIV infection has remained steady in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, HIV statistics include the following:

  • 1.2 million Americans carry the HIV infection
  • One out five people carrying the virus doesn’t known they have it
  • 50,000 people become infected with HIV every year
  • As of 2010, there were 33,015 people diagnosed with AIDS

Effects of Drug Use on HIV Treatment

The medications used to treat HIV infections are classified as antiretrovirals, or ARVs. These drugs help to reduce the rate at which the virus spreads throughout the body. The liver plays an essential role in breaking down ARV drugs and releasing them into the bloodstream. These medications are prescribed at specific dosages to ensure the needed amount of the drug remains active in the bloodstream.

The liver also plays a pivotal role in the breakdown of alcohol and drug materials as they enter the body. When two or more substances are in line to be processed by the liver, this can affect how quickly or how slowing a particular substance enters the bloodstream. This means that someone who’s currently using drugs or alcohol while on ARV medications may be weakening the effects of their HIV treatment.

Another very pressing concern also involves the risk of overdosing on an injected drug or other substance in an attempt to get the desired physical effects from the drug. Since the liver is working more slowly, someone on ARV medications may not experience the type of “high” they’re used to feeling. When this happens, a person may attempt to ingest more drugs in order to reach the desired effect. This is when an overdose is most likely to happen.

Medication Interactions

Being diagnosed with the HIV virus can be a harrowing experience. If this happens, it’s important that you seek the help of an HIV professional or specialist who can steer you towards a support group. Otherwise, the emotional feelings that arise can make an alcohol or drug addiction go from bad to worse.

As you progress through the treatment protocols used to combat the HIV virus, some of the medications may cause unpleasant side effects to occur. These side effects can provide yet another reason to turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to reduce the discomfort, which is another reason why having a support group to turn to is important.

The University of California at San Francisco lists the following conditions as the most common side effects encountered when taking ARV medications:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth

When ingesting alcohol and drugs along with ARV medications, any side effects from the medication may get worse as the body’s immune system grows weaker from the effects of alcohol and drugs. Also, a weakened immune system leaves the door open for other infections, such as herpes simplex, malaria and tuberculosis, to enter the body. When considering all the factors involved, not getting drug rehabilitation treatment greatly increases the likelihood of weakening an already threatened immune system.

HIV/AIDS Transmission Rates

As of 2007, the documented number of AIDS diagnoses amounts to 1,051,875 based on statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. This number includes the total number of cases reported since the very first case was reported in 1980. Over the years, officials have tracked how AIDS is transmitted along with the rates for each type of contact.

The following numbers reveal the most common modes of HIV/AIDS transmission:

  • Injection drug use accounted for 255,859 cases
  • Male-to-male sexual contact accounted for 487,695 cases
  • “High-risk” heterosexual contact accounted for 176,157 cases
  • Male-to-male sexual contact and injection drug use accounted for 71,242 cases

HIV Drug Resistance

Virus strains are known for their ability to mutate or change forms on a daily basis. When this happens, the virus basically becomes a new and improved version of itself. The HIV virus is no different. A virus spreads as viral organisms convert healthy cells into infected cells. The HIV virus in particular is known to mutate every time it spreads into a new cell structure. Some mutations may cause the virus to become resistant to the effects of any ARV medications you’re currently taking. This means the medications can no longer stop the spread of the virus in the body.

ARV medication resistance usually develops when a person misses taking a scheduled dose. Resistance can also occur when alcohol and drugs slow down the liver’s ability to release the medication into the bloodstream. When resistance develops, patients must switch to a stronger medication, which in most cases causes more severe side effects to occur.

Health Complications

The combined effects of the HIV virus and ongoing alcohol and drug use can create a mix of health complications that becomes difficult for your doctor to diagnose. As fever, nausea and fatigue can be symptoms of the virus or symptoms of ongoing drug use, doctors may be unable to determine which condition is causing a particular symptom to appear. This becomes especially troublesome in cases where a person has not yet been diagnosed with the HIV virus.

Unless an HIV test is performed, doctors may assume a particular symptom is caused by ongoing drug use.

In the case of injection drug use, any health complication warrants cause for concern when an HIV infection is present. Ongoing injection drug users are more susceptible to certain life-threatening conditions because of their exposure to other blood-borne conditions, such as the hepatitis family of viruses. These conditions make the body more susceptible to contracting cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, lung cancer and bacterial infections.

In light of the factors involved, anyone who knows they have an HIV infection may want to seriously consider eliminating any activities that weaken their immune system function.

If you’re suffering from addiction, it’s time to get the help you need. Your health and well-being are at risk.