At NIDA's last Drug Facts Chat Day, Razorfang asked this question:
"can you get viruses from drugs?"
The answer to this might surprise you. Although you can't get viruses directly from drugs, using drugs can increase your chances of catching a virus like HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). In fact, behaviors associated with drug abuse are one of the biggest factors in the spread of HIV across the US.
That's because drugs can mess up your judgment and lead to bad decisions—bad decisions like unsafe sex. And risky sex can lead to more than pregnancy. It can also lead to becoming infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted viruses.
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It’s a disease caused by the HIV virus, which breaks down the body’s immune system, or our natural defenses against disease. Without our immune system, our bodies cannot fight off illness.
HIV used to be thought of as a disease that happened only to injection drug users and gay men. That is not true. In fact, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, heterosexual contact between men and women accounted for the second biggest chunk (31%) of all new HIV infections in 2006—more than twice the rate of infections among intravenous drug users. And guess which age group had the most new HIV infections? Young people ages 13-29. In particular, adolescents who have unprotected sex are putting themselves at increased risk of getting HIV.
NIDA research backs this up. It shows that teens like Kim and her friends who drink or use drugs may be putting themselves at a higher risk for contracting HIV, because being high or drunk can lead to having risky sex. To learn more about the link between HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, check out NIDA’s Learn the Link campaign, and get to know the facts on how our decisions, however small they may seem, can majorly affect our health.
When someone mentions "HIV/AIDS" what is the first thing that comes to mind?
—Something you learned about in health class?
—Or saw on TV?
—Or recall a friend who recently got tested for HIV?
—Or a celebrity who raises awareness about HIV/AIDS around the world?
Here's some of the science behind HIV/AIDS that you may not know; HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a disease of the immune system. Currently, there is no cure, but there is treatment. The good news? HIV/AIDS is preventable, and you can protect yourself by knowing how it is spread and using good judgment. Here are some typical questions that you might have, which research has helped to answer:
- How does someone get HIV? HIV is transmitted when an infected person's blood or other bodily fluid comes in contact with the blood, broken skin, or mucous membranes of someone who is not infected.
- Isn't HIV just a problem in foreign countries like Africa? It's true that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is worse in certain foreign countries, but it is also prevalent in the United States. Every nine and a half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV, affecting people of every age, race, and creed. Even teens.
- How many teens really have HIV? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 50,000 young people 13 to 24 years old were living with the virus that causes AIDS in 2006, and nearly half didn't even know they had it.
- What does drug abuse have to do with it? You've probably heard that needle-sharing among injection drug users can spread the disease, which is true. However, using drugs and alcohol also puts people at risk. That's because when someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, their judgment is impaired, and they're more likely to make impulsive decisions they normally wouldn't, like having sex. Since HIV is sexually transmitted, unprotected sex can lead to getting HIV or giving it to someone else. And since so many teens don't even know they have HIV, they can pass it on without even knowing.
So, now what? Make healthy choices and protect yourself and your friends. For more information about HIV/AIDS, check out our friends over at AIDS.gov.
Did you know that alcohol and drugs play a major role in increasing violence toward a partner in a relationship? February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, designed to raise awareness about this and related issues.
So, how do drugs and alcohol play a role? One study found that, in junior high and high school, teens who drank alcohol before age 13 were more likely to be both victims and abusers when it comes to physical dating violence. Another study found that teenage girls in abusive relationships are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have eating disorders, engage in unsafe sexual behaviors, and attempt suicide.
Unfortunately, the number of teens who suffer from abuse in relationships is not small: nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced physical, emotional, and sexual violence in a relationship during their adolescent years. Many of the contributing factors are preventable, and NIDA needs your help to spread the word and stop the violence.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Here are some signs that a partner might have abusive tendencies. He or she may:
- Be unable to control his or her anger or frustration.
- Lack social skills.
- Use drugs and/or alcohol.
- Be extremely jealous, insecure, or possessive.
- Constantly put you down.
- Check your personal email or phone without asking permission.
- Isolate you from your loved ones.
Although some of these characteristics might sound common, they are extremely unhealthy. If you or someone you know is in a relationship where one person acts like this, there are places you or your friend can go for help.
What Can I Do To Help?
Creating awareness about dating violence among teens can help prevent more teens from getting physically or emotionally abused in their relationships. For example, you might talk to your guidance counselor about hosting an event at your school. The Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month’s website provides free materials to help get your event started.
Or, try talking to someone in your school’s newspaper office to see if they’d be willing to publish an article about teen dating violence. Anything you do to help create awareness could have a positive impact on someone you know.
How Can I (or Someone I Know) Get Help?
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please seek help. Many organizations are willing to provide a free, safe space, as well as counseling. You can call the 24-hour National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 or go to LoveIsRespect.org for live chat support. Help is only a text message away. Text “loveis” to 77054 to begin texting with an advocate who can help you.
Also, check out the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Relationship Violence Toolkit.
The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women offers more detailed information on dating violence.
HIV newly infects about 48,000 Americans every year, but one in five with the disease don’t even know they have it. That’s why today, on National HIV Testing Day, we encourage everyone to get tested—it’s the only way to know for sure if you have HIV. If you do have it, the sooner you find out, the sooner you can get treated.
Drugs + HIV
You probably know how injection drug use (with needles) can lead to HIV infection, but did you know that other kinds of drug use can also increase your odds of getting the disease?
When you use drugs or alcohol, you don’t have as much control over your emotions or your common sense. You could make risky decisions that could lead you into an unsafe sexual situation, putting you at risk for getting HIV or another STD.
Drugs + HIV > Learn the Link helps you understand how any drug use could put you at risk for contracting HIV. You might be interested in a series of Webisodes that tell the story of how unhealthy decisions made at a party change a teen’s life.
Know Your Status Many health centers and clinics offer free or low-cost HIV tests. Go to AIDS.gov to find one near you. And spread the word—when you take the test, you take control.