For many younger people, HIV and AIDS are as much a thing of the past as acid-wash jeans and Walkman’s. You don’t hear much about it these days on television or in the news, and there’s no longer widespread fear about catching it through casual interaction. Unfortunately, it’s still a serious problem worldwide, and one of the ways people can get infected is through recreational drug use. Not only that, but if an individual continues to use drugs while being treated for HIV, those recreational drugs might interact badly with prescription medications that control the disease.

Another thing that people who are only peripherally aware of HIV might believe is that it’s strictly spread through sexual contact. While that is one major way, another is the sharing of needles. If a person with HIV uses a needle, and that needle has some blood remaining in it, the HIV virus can live in that blood for up to 42 days. If someone else uses the needle, the chances of them being infected with HIV are extremely high. And speaking of sex, being intoxicated makes it far more likely that people will engage in risky, unprotected sex, putting themselves in further danger from contracting the virus.

HIV is no longer considered a death sentence the way it was in the 80s. There are medications out there that can help people live long, productive lives. Unfortunately, if you’re using illegal drugs, the effectiveness of these medications can be seriously reduced because some anti-HIV drugs and some recreational drugs are metabolized by the same pathways in the body. It’s also possible that the illegal drugs can be made more dangerous by the presence of HIV medications.

The two medications most likely to be affected are ritonavir (Norvir) and cobicistat (Tybost), which are types of drugs called boosting agents. They are taken in addition to another medication and make the liver break it down more slowly, so it stays in the body longer and at higher levels. When recreational drugs are taken, however, the liver processes them more slowly as well. This means that the recreational drug is going to linger in your body longer than it would otherwise, and in a higher concentration, which could lead to overdose.


The safest thing to do, obviously, is not use illegal drugs, injectable or otherwise. If you can’t stop, don’t share needles. They can be cleaned with bleach, which will lessen the chances of contracting HIV but not eliminate it. You should safely dispose of a needle after a single use. Make sure to practice safe sex and get tested for HIV at least once a year. There are also daily medications you can take called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, that can prevent HIV.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.