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Buzzkill: Alcohol Is Harder on People With HIV


New research has found that even moderate alcohol consumption among people with HIV, even those who are undetectable, is more harmful to them than among people who don’t have the virus.

Published Feb. 2 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the new study examined data from the Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS), which is comprised of patients receiving Veterans Health Administration Care between 2008 and 2011. Researchers studied the association between alcohol use and mortality and other signs of physiologic injury, according to a Yale News release.

“It demonstrates that even among people on ART with suppressed viral load, who are much less sick in general, there is still an added effect of alcohol among those individuals than people without HIV,” said Amy Justice, professor of general medicine and of public health at Yale, in the release. “It suggests the threshold for safe alcohol consumption is likely different for people with HIV.”

Previous studies have shown that people with HIV tend to the feel the effects of alcohol more quickly and with fewer drinks.

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The study included a large sample: 18,145 people with HIV and 42,228 uninfected individuals. Among the HIV-positive sample, more than three-fourths had an undetectable status (less than 500 copies/ml). Among the positive sample, an AUDIT-C score of 4 or more, and 30 or more drinks per month, was associated with increased risk of mortality. Among uninfected individuals, AUDIT-C scores of 5 or more, or 70 drinks per month or more, were associated with increased risk.

The AUDIT-C is a brief alcohol screen that reliably identifies patients who are hazardous drinkers or have active alcohol use disorders,” according to federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services guidelines. The AUDIT-C is scored on a scale of 0-12.

“Similarly, AUDIT-C threshold scores of 5-7 were associated with physiologic injury among HIV-positive individuals, and a score of 8 or more was associated with injury in uninfected individuals,” the results stated.

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The researchers concluded that alcohol consumption limits should be lower among people with HIV. “Despite antiretroviral therapy, HIV-positive individuals experienced increased mortality and physiologic injury at lower levels of alcohol use compared with uninfected individuals.”

One of the reasons alcohol and HIV have a bad relationship is because both produced a heightened state of inflammation, which can lead to an abundance of health issues, including cardiovascular problems.

Here’s a transcript from a 2012 discussion held by San Francisco AIDS Foundation called “Alcohol and HIV: Current Thinking About Drinking.”