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 a condom.
You also may be more likely to have a harder time using a condom the right way every time you have sex, 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.
- Use a condom every time you have sex. 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 are HIV-negative, talk to your health care provider about PrEP. PrEP is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) daily to lower their chances of getting HIV. PrEP must be taken every day as prescribed and alcohol use can make it hard to stick to a daily 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 are living with HIV, taking ART every day, exactly as prescribed is also important to stay healthy and prevent transmission. People living with HIV who take HIV medication daily as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners. Like PrEP, ART must be taken every day, exactly as prescribed.
- 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.
- To find a treatment center near you, use the SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Locator or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Open 24/7.
If you are living with 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.