- PrintArticle Summary
- Why Get Tested?
- Can Having HIV Make Withdrawal Worse?
- How Does It Affect the Treatment Process?
- Why Is Medical Detox Important?
Substance abuse, addiction, and physical dependence are intimidating problems for people to confront on their own. Fortunately, with the right support and treatment program, it is possible to overcome an addiction to alcohol and drugs.
When the individual has a pre-existing mental or physical condition, treatment becomes more complicated, but even a person whose health has been affected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) can find an HIV/AIDS withdrawal treatment program designed to address their needs.
Why Get Tested?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It is transmitted through the contact of blood or bodily fluid of an infected person with the blood, broken skin, or mucous membranes of another. Common modes of transmission include sex and injection drug use.
Infected mothers may also pass the virus to their babies. HIV destroys certain white blood cells that the immune system needs to function optimally, and the rapid destruction of these cells often predicts the onset of AIDS. The weakened immune system of someone with AIDS can lead them to suffer from serious infections and raise their risk of developing cancer and other diseases.1
Taking an HIV test is scary for most people, but having this information allows you to make informed decisions about your health.
Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, drug abuse and the behaviors surrounding it have been major contributing factors to the problem.1 Not only can someone contract HIV from blood-to-blood contact with another person during injection drug use, but even non-injection drug abuse may result in the contraction of HIV due to:1
- Poor judgment, reduced inhibition, and risky sexual behaviors.
- Increased vulnerability. The consumption of drugs and alcohol can independently reduce the effectiveness of the immune system. Using substances consistently diminishes your physical health and could make you more susceptible to contracting any viruses, including HIV.
At present, there is no cure for HIV, though treatment is available to manage the condition, extend the life expectancy of the individual, and lower the risk of transmission. With HIV, early detection and initiation of treatment can be lifesaving and prevent the spread of the disease. Getting an HIV test is crucial, especially for those who have engaged in certain high-risk behaviors commonly associated with drug abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes HIV testing should be a part of standard health care and recommends that every person between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested at least once.2 Certain factors point to a need for more regular testing. These include:2
- Engaging in intravenous drug use/sharing needles or paraphernalia like water or cotton.
- Having sex with an HIV-positive person.
- Having sex with men (if a man).
- Having sex with multiple partners.
- Exchanging sex for money.
- Having had another sexually transmitted infection.
- Having had hepatitis or tuberculosis.
Taking an HIV test is scary for most people, but having this information allows you to make informed decisions about your health.2
Approximately 14% of people in the U.S. with HIV do not realize they have the condition, which could lead to countless others being placed in danger.2 Failing to get tested will do nothing to stop the disease from impacting your body, and it could lead to the unwitting transmission of the disease to others.
Frequent drug testing results in healthier outcomes. A positive test is unwanted but helpful, because it encourages you to find treatment more quickly for yourself and to take actions to protect your loved ones.2
There are many locations that offer testing. Those wishing to get tested may contact their doctor’s office, community health center, or hospital to ask about testing options and locations.
Other options for information about HIV and testing include:2
- Making a phone call to 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).
- Sending a text containing your zip code to KNOW IT (566948).
- Going online to gettested.cdc.gov or www.locator.hiv.gov.
Many drug abuse programs also offer HIV/AIDS testing during early stages of treatment,2 which can help guide the care given during rehab and inform the plan for aftercare.
Can Having HIV Make Withdrawal Worse?
Drug withdrawal can be very serious, and HIV can make it more severe.
Alcohol and other drugs have the power to disrupt the normal brain activity, so when consistent or long-term use ends, withdrawal symptoms emerge.3 Withdrawal symptoms and their timelines are drug-specific.3 Some drugs will trigger a quick and intense withdrawal that lasts just a few hours, while others are associated with withdrawal that lasts for weeks or months.4
Depending on various mental health, physical health, and situational stressors, withdrawal symptoms can range from mildly irritating to excruciating. In the worst situations, withdrawal from alcohol or drugs can be deadly.5 Some of the most serious and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms are the delirium and seizures that sometimes accompany alcohol and sedative withdrawal.4
Common symptoms of various alcohol and drug withdrawal syndromes include:4
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Diarrhea or constipation.
- Heart palpitations.
- Mood swings.
- Depression or anxiety.
Having an HIV/AIDS diagnosis can indeed impact the withdrawal experience, potentially making it more intense, lengthy, or dangerous. There are 2 major reasons for this:5
- Even before withdrawal, people with HIV/AIDS have a complicated physical health profile with an increased propensity for problems like infections, fevers, diarrhea, weight loss, seizures, and cardiac issues that, should they arise, may worsen withdrawal and require more intense clinical care.
- During withdrawal, a weakened immune system can increase one’s risk of experiencing numerous, amplified symptoms.
Several withdrawal syndromes are associated with different mental health disturbances like mood swings, anxiety, or depression.5 These symptoms may worsen in the presence of a recent HIV diagnosis, which on its own may cause feelings of fear, despair, or hopelessness.
How Does It Affect the Treatment Process?
Professional withdrawal treatment should always aim to provide individualized care based on the unique situation of the patient.5
Withdrawal treatment regularly begins with a period of evaluation to thoroughly assess the patient's medical and substance abuse history.5 It is important for providers to know of a person's HIV-positive status in order to provide appropriate care during detox. Treatment for withdrawal symptoms may include medication. Because of this, extra care must be taken with patients who have HIV/AIDS. Some medications used to treat alcohol or drug dependence may not interact well with antiviral drugs used in HIV treatment.
For example, methadone is typically prescribed during various stages of substance abuse treatment to help people overcome opioid dependence. However, when taken in conjunction with some HIV drugs, it may not work as intended, and it might cause certain side effects to develop.5
HIV medications known to disrupt the normal metabolism of methadone include:5
- Amprenavir (Agenerase).
- Efavirenz (Sustiva).
- Nevirapine (Viramune).
- Lopinavir/ritonavir (Kaletra).
As treatment centers are bound by HIPAA privacy laws, there’s nothing to be gained by not disclosing your HIV status and, potentially, the course of your treatment could suffer. The more information your doctors and nurses have, the better they'll be able to care for you during withdrawal.
Why Is Medical Detox Important?
The symptoms of withdrawal can make for a painful and even dangerous experience, but medical detox can allay the discomfort and reduce the risks of serious problems. Because HIV can weaken your immune system, cause numerous health issues, and intensify your withdrawal experience, it is important to enlist the help of medical professionals when you consider detoxing from drugs or alcohol.
Medical detoxification involves supervision and care from a team of doctors, nurses, and other addiction professionals.5 While an inpatient setting may be the most appropriate option for someone with HIV, in certain cases, detoxification may be completed on an outpatient basis.5 A doctor can help to make the determination regarding what setting is safest and best-suited to your needs.
- Inpatient detox may take place in hospitals, freestanding detox centers, or other acute care settings.5
- Outpatient detox involves meeting with a healthcare professional on a regular basis to be evaluated, obtain needed medications, and to provide an update on progress.5
It is best to speak to an addiction treatment specialist or other healthcare provider about the benefits and disadvantages of each option to find the best one for your particular situation.5 It does not matter if a specific program was successful for a friend or family member if it can't address your unique needs.
In addition to kicking your physical dependence in detox, it is important to address your addiction to drugs and alcohol. Someone who disengages with treatment after detox is more likely to return to substance use as compared to someone who engages in additional treatment.3
There are a number of counseling, individual therapy, and group therapy options available to you. Depending on the type of detox and setting, these professional treatments can be initiated during or immediately after detox has concluded. By building an understanding of the role of substance use for each person, behavioral therapies help build better awareness and new coping skills to avoid future addiction.3 Substance abuse rehab programs can also play an important part in helping someone to come to terms with a new HIV diagnosis by providing counseling and helping to link them to additional medical services.1
You may feel reluctant to seek treatment if you're worried that a positive HIV/AIDS status make your addiction treatment more involved and complex, but detoxing from drugs and alcohol in a safe, professional environment can start your recovery and give you hope for the future. Free of substance abuse and the issues that surround it, you’ll be more equipped to manage your health issues and live your best life.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Learn the Link – Drugs and HIV.
- HIV.gov. (2018). Who Should Get Tested?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.