Back in May 2013, I wrote an exclusive article for the Huffington Post Gay Voices entitled, “Kickin’ One Back May Be One Too Many.” It stated that in a group of U.S. men who had sex with men (MSM), heavy drinking plus having more than one unprotected receptive anal intercourse partner in the past two years doubled the risk of acquiring the HIV virus. Also in that particular study, it was determined that heavy drinking alone—in excess of 14 drinks weekly–increased the risk of HIV infection by a whopping 61 percent.
Earlier this month, Yale University published a study that concluded that those living with the virus were more likely to die and experience physiological harm related to consuming alcohol than HIV-negative individuals. And get this: taking just one or two drinks a day was enough to increase the risk of injury among HIV-positive persons—even those who are undetectable (fully-suppressed virus).
According to Ziba Kashef of the publication Yale News, the study is the first to reveal the increased harm among patients who have suppressed HIV with modern antiretroviral treatment (ART).
“Research has shown that it takes fewer drinks for a person with HIV to feel the effects. However, most prior studies were done on HIV-positive individuals who had detectable virus,” Kashef reported. “The Yale-led team set out to determine whether the risks associated with alcohol were higher among current patients who are more likely to have the infection under control with ART.”
The researchers analyzed data on both HIV-positive and uninfected patients from the Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS), a large population of persons receiving care from the Veterans Health Administration between 2008 and 2012. They examined the connection between alcohol consumption and mortality–as well as other signs of physical harm.
“They found that HIV-positive individuals were more likely to die and experience physiological harm from alcohol consumption than uninfected individuals. Even consumption of one to two drinks per day was associated with increased risk for people with HIV,” Kashef added. “The finding was particularly notable because it held true for individuals with suppressed virus, said the researchers.”
Amy Caroline Justice, professor of general medicine and of public health at Yale, weighed in. “(The study) ‘demonstrates that even among people on ART with suppressed viral load, who are much less sick in general, there is still an added effect of alcohol among those individuals than people without HIV. It suggests the threshold for safe alcohol consumption is likely different for people with HIV’.”
Correlation does not prove causation. Drinking alcohol in great moderation is healthy for all, people, irrespective of HIV status, but the report of this study is neither a rigorous double blinded study, nor does it hypothesize that hiv infection with or without treatments with proper medications, or comorbid medical conditions, including depression, kidney disease, other metabolic disorders, or the past drug and alcohol use alone or in combination are responsible for these outcomes.
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I appreciate your interesting “take” on this important study..
However, erring on the side of caution, I believe it’s in the best interest to side with the Yale Study.