HIV & Substance Use Disorder Concerns

Recovery Forever's Walk On The Beach

People with HIV are more likely to struggle with substance abuse [1]. Similarly, people who use intravenous drugs are at greater risk for contracting HIV [1]. Both HIV and substance use disorder (SUD) are serious conditions that can be fatal if left untreated.

Despite how intertwined and dangerous these conditions are, many people living with HIV and SUD do not get the treatment they need [1]. This is very concerning because substance abuse can interfere with proper HIV care [1]. There are a few ways to improve treatment for HIV and SUD:

Co-Occurring Substance Abuse & HIV Treatment

Research shows that substance abuse is common in people living with HIV [1]. While people who inject drugs are more likely to contract HIV, they are not the only substances commonly abused by people with HIV. Across the world, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in this population [1]. Other common drugs are cocaine, opioids, and meth.

Substance use is shown to negatively interfere with HIV treatment [1]. People who use substances are less likely to be consistently involved in their medical care and being inconsistent in taking their medication. Integrating substance use treatment into HIV treatment centers is shown to have a positive impact.

This treatment could include screening of substance abuse and providing appropriate referrals. Using computer-based screening tools can make people feel comfortable to answer honestly. Referrals given to substance use or mental health treatment centers can help support people in recovering from addiction and improving their overall health [1].

Harm Reduction

Man struggling with HIV and substance abuseHarm reduction is a way to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use. There isn’t only one way to implement harm reduction techniques because they can be customized for individuals or specific communities. Some examples of harm reduction may be helping people find safer ways to use, such as providing clean needles to people who inject drugs.

Some people may feel that this encourages or approves of drug use, but it is actually shown to increase the amount of people who begin addiction treatment and detoxification programs [2]. These services also are not shown to increase drug use for people who don’t already use drugs [2].

These services benefit society as a whole because they have led to reduced crime rates and the spread of disease in countries that implemented them [2]. These programs are especially helpful for high-risk users, such as people most likely to contract HIV [2]. These programs could be one way to prevent the spread of HIV around the world.

Resources for Underserved Populations

Certain people living with HIV are less likely to receive substance abuse treatment [1]. These people are children, adolescents, and people living in lower-income communities. Increasing access to HIV treatment and substance abuse treatment for people in these communities is crucial to improving health outcomes around the world.

HIV and drug addiction are often met with judgment and stigma throughout the world. People living with HIV and drug addiction deserve access to effective treatment and care. It is time to improve the quality of care available to these people in our society.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, September 15). Gaps in substance use treatment services for HIV patients around the globe.

[2] Maté, G. (2010) In the realm of hungry ghosts. North Atlantic Books.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on November 30, 2020
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 30, 2020
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.