The risk for getting or transmitting HIV is very high if needles or works (such as cookers, cotton, or water) are shared. This is because they may have someone else's blood in them, and blood can transmit HIV and other infections.
Alcohol and other drugs also can affect a person’s judgment and increase the risk of getting or transmitting HIV (or other sexually transmitted diseases).
How Do Alcohol and Other Kinds of Drugs Put Me at Risk for Getting or Transmitting HIV?
When you’re drunk or high, you’re more likely to make decisions that put you at risk for getting or transmitting HIV, such as having sex without a condom.
Drinking alcohol, particularly binge drinking, and using drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine can alter your judgment, lower your inhibitions, and impair your decisions about sex or other drug use. You may be more likely to have unplanned and unprotected sex, have a harder time using a condom the right way every time you have sex, have more sexual partners, or use other drugs, including injection drugs or meth. Those behaviors can increase your risk of exposure to HIV. If you have HIV, they can also increase your risk of spreading HIV to others. Being drunk or high affects your ability to make safe choices.
If you’re going to a party or another place where you know you’ll be drinking or using drugs, you can bring a condom so that you can reduce your risk if you have vaginal or anal sex.
Therapy, medicines, and other methods are available to help you stop or cut down on drinking or using drugs. 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, check out the locator tool on SAMHSA.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Learn more about how to protect yourself and your partners, and get information tailored to meet your needs from CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool (BETA).
How Can I Prevent Getting or Passing HIV from Injection Drug Use?
The number of people in the United States who have injected drugs has increased as a result of the opioid epidemic that is gripping communities across the country. Stopping injection and other drug use can lower your chances of getting or transmitting HIV a lot. If you keep injecting drugs, use only sterile needles and works. Never share needles or works.
You are at very high risk for getting HIV if you use a needle or works after someone with HIV has used them. If you have HIV, you could give someone HIV if they use a syringe or works that you had used. Also, when people are high, they’re more likely to have risky sex, which increases the chance of getting or transmitting HIV.
The best way to reduce your risk of HIV is to stop using drugs. You may need help to stop or cut down using drugs, but many resources are available. Talk with a counselor, doctor, or other health care provider about substance abuse treatment. To find a treatment center near you, check out the locator tool on SAMHSA.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
If you keep injecting drugs, here are some things you can do to lower your risk for getting HIV and other infections:
- Ask your doctor about taking daily medicine to prevent HIV (called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP).
- Use only new, sterile needles and works each time you inject. Many communities have syringe services programs (SSPs, also called syringe exchange programs or needle exchange programs) where you can get new needles and works. These programs also provide other services that may be useful to you (see below). In some places, pharmacies will sell syringes without a prescription.
- Never share needles or works.
- Clean used needles with bleach only when you can’t get new ones. Bleaching a needle may reduce the risk of HIV but doesn’t eliminate it.
- Use sterile water to fix drugs.
- Clean your skin with a new alcohol swab before you inject.
- Be careful not to get someone else’s blood on your hands or your needle or works.
- Dispose of needles safely after one use. Use a sharps container, or keep used needles away from other people.
- If you are HIV-negative:
- Get tested for HIV at least once a year.
- See if there are SSPs in your local area (for information about SSPs, see below).
- Don’t have sex if you’re high. If you do have sex, make sure to protect yourself and your partner by using a condom the right way every time or by using other effective methods.
What Are Syringe Services Programs?
Syringe services programs (SSPs, also called syringe exchange programs or needle exchange programs) are community-based programs that play a role in preventing HIV and other health problems among people who inject drugs (PWID). They provide access to sterile syringes and should also provide comprehensive services such as help with stopping substance misuse; testing and linkage to treatment for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C; education on what to do for an overdose; and other prevention services. SSPs have been demonstrated to be an effective component of a comprehensive approach to prevent HIV and viral hepatitis among PWID, while not increasing illegal drug use. Learn more about SSPs.