HIV and Addiction Risk Factors

Drug and alcohol misuse can increase the risk of contracting HIV. When people misuse substances, they are more likely to make poor choices that will put them at risk for transmitting or contracting a disease. The exposure may also vary according to the type of substance being used.

It is a common misconception that the only way to spread HIV through substance use is by sharing needles with an infected person. While that is one way, it’s not the only way. There are direct and indirect HIV risk factors related to substance use.

A direct HIV risk factor involves exposure to a contaminated needle or drug injection supplies. When people share needles, traces of blood could be transferred. Even when a clean needle is used, other materials that are shared, such as solutions to dissolve drugs or cotton balls, could act as a transfer agent.

When under the influence of alcohol or drugs, people often make poor decisions that put them at risk of contracting HIV. While the use of the drug itself is not directly related to HIV risk, the resulting behavior is. One of the top causes of HIV infection linked to drug and alcohol misuse is unprotected sex or misusing a condom.

Commonly Misused Substances Linked to HIV Risk

HIV risk is present with a variety of drugs. According to, some of the commonly used substances linked to HIV risk include:

  • Alcohol.This substance is particularly risky due to binge drinking, which can lead to risky sexual behavior.
  • Opioids. People who misuse opioids have a higher risk of infection due to needle sharing and risky sexual behavior.
  • Methamphetamines. Meth is also associated with risky sexual behavior, and it is a drug that can be injected so needle sharing is a concern.
  • Crack cocaine. Some people that misuse crack cocaine will partake in unsafe behaviors to gain access to more of the drug.
  • Inhalants. Using inhalants like amyl nitrite is linked to risky sexual behaviors and HIV transmission.

How to Reduce the Risk of HIV Infection

One of the best ways to avoid contracting HIV is to stop or cut back on the use of addictive substances. If you are unable to control your use of these drugs, it may be time to seek qualified help through an addiction treatment center.

You can also lower your risk by avoiding injecting drugs. If you do inject drugs, only use new, sterile needles and never share them. Always use sterile water to prepare drugs and carefully dispose of needles once used.

When having sex, always use a condom and avoid having sex when under the influence. Get tested regularly for HIV.

Get Professional Treatment for a Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorders are associated with an increased risk of contracting HIV, as well as reduced effectiveness for some HIV/AIDS treatment. The sooner you get treatment for addiction, the sooner you reduce the chance of contracting HIV through addiction-related activities.

If you or a loved one live with an addiction, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about how individualized treatment programs work to address each patient’s addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders. You deserve a healthy future; call today.

Sources “Substance Use and HIV Risk.” August 27, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Are people who abuse methamphetamines at[…]d hepatitis B and C.” September 2013. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.