Alcohol and HIV Risk
How Can Alcohol Put You at Risk for Getting or Transmitting HIV?
Drinking alcohol, particularly binge drinking, affects your brain, making it hard to think clearly. When you’re drunk, you may be more likely to make poor decisions that put you at risk for getting or transmitting HIV, such as having sex without medicine to prevent or treat HIV or without a condom.
You also may be more likely to have a harder time using a condom the right way , have more sexual partners, or use other drugs. Those behaviors can increase your risk of exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Or, if you have HIV, they can also increase your risk of transmitting HIV to others.
What Can You Do?
If you drink alcohol:
- Drink in moderation. Moderate drinking is up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. One drink is a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a shot of liquor.
- Visit Rethinking Drinking, a website from NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). This website can help you evaluate your drinking habits and consider how alcohol may be affecting your health.
- Don’t have sex if you’re drunk or high from other drugs.
- If you are HIV-negative, talk to your health care provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent getting HIV from sex or injection drug use. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout your body. PrEP must be taken as prescribed and alcohol use can make it hard to stick to an HIV regimen. Be open and honest about your alcohol use so you and your doctor can develop a plan for you to stick to your HIV medicine.
- If you aren’t taking PrEP as prescribed, condom use is also important to help prevent HIV. And, since PrEP only protects against HIV, condom use is still important for the protection against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Read this fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to use condoms correctly. You can also consider sexual activities that are lower risk for HIV than anal or vaginal sex (like oral sex).
- If you have HIV, take HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) as prescribed. People with HIV who take HIV medication as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load can live long and healthy lives and will not transmit HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex.
- If you feel you are drinking too much, too fast, or too often, therapy and other methods are available to help you stop or cut down on your alcohol use (if you have a problem). Talk with a counselor, doctor, or other health care provider about options that might be right for you.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Use and Alcoholism (NIAAA) offers an Alcohol Treatment Navigator. This online tool helps you find the right treatment for you—and near you. It guides you through a step-by-step process to finding a highly qualified professional treatment provider.
- You can also use the SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Locator or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Open 24/7.
If you have HIV, alcohol use can be harmful to your brain and body and affect your ability to stick to your HIV treatment. Learn about the health effects of alcohol and other drug use and how to access alcohol treatment programs if you need them.