Viral Infections (HIV, Hepatitis) and Drug Use

What is the link between drug use and viral infections like HIV and hepatitis?

Drug use increases a person’s risk for getting a viral infection, like HIV or hepatitis, in two ways:

  • When people inject drugs and share needles or other drug equipment. This can transfer viruses from one person to another, because bodily fluids like blood stay on the equipment in tiny amounts—even if the equipment is wiped “clean.”
  • When drug use leads to poor judgment and risky behavior. Using drugs and alcohol can affect the choices a person makes. For example, it can lead to unsafe sex. This puts a person at risk for getting hepatitis from—or giving it to—someone else.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Drugs can also make it easier for HIV to enter the brain and trigger an immune response and the release of toxins in the nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). This can cause a kind of brain disorder called NeuroHIV.  
  • Drug use and addiction can also speed up the progression of HIV and its consequences, especially in the brain, making AIDS-related deaths more likely.
  • Drug and alcohol use can also directly damage the liver, increasing risk for chronic liver disease and cancer among those infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
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