HIV/AIDS Research Report
How Does Drug Abuse Affect the HIV Epidemic?

Drug abuse and addiction have been inextricably linked with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. While intravenous drug use is well known in this regard, less recognized is the role that drug abuse plays more generally in the spread of HIV by increasing the likelihood of high-risk sex with infected partners.3 The intoxicating effects of many drugs can alter judgment and inhibition and lead people to engage in impulsive and unsafe behaviors. Also, people who are abusing or addicted to drugs may engage in sexually risky behaviors to obtain drugs or money for drugs. Nearly one-quarter of AIDS cases stem from intravenous drug use, and one in four people living with HIV/AIDS in the period of 2005–2009 reported use of alcohol or drugs to an extent that required treatment.4

Estimated Persons Living with HIV Infection (Diagnosed and Undiagnosed)† and Estimated AIDS Deaths Among Adults and Adolescents — United States, 1981–2008

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Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
*Estimates were obtained by statistically adjusting the national HIV surveillance data reported through June 2010 for reporting delays, but not for incomplete reporting.
†HIV prevalence were estimated based on national HIV surveillance data for adults and adolescents (aged ≥13 years at diagnosis) reported through June 2010 using extended back-calculation. See text description 

Drug abuse and addiction can also worsen the progression of HIV and its consequences, especially in the brain. For example, in animal studies, methamphetamine increased the amount of HIV virus present in the brain;5 and in human studies, HIV caused greater neuronal injury and cognitive impairment in methamphetamine abusers compared to non-drug users.6,7

Text Description: Estimated Persons Living with HIV Infection Graph

Line graph showing United States data collected by CDC from 1981 to 2008 that reports the number of deaths due to AIDS and the estimated number of people living with HIV infection. The number of people dying from AIDS peaked in 1995 at just over 50,000 but has decreased dramatically since the introduction of HAART in the early 1990s to fewer than 20,000 deaths in 2008. HAART has also effectively halted HIV disease progression, thus the number of people living with HIV infection has steadily increased from less than 800,000 in 1995 (HAART introduction) to well over 1,100,000 people in 2008.