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A Journal on Psychiatry, Psychology and Psychopharmacology

Official Journal of the Italian Society of Social Psychiatry
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Minerva Psichiatrica 2009 September;50(3):209-22


language: English

Substance abuse and human immunodeficiency virus in women

Barry D.

Calhoun Cardiovascular Center, Behavioral Health, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington, CT, USA


Despite improvements in the prevention and treatment of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes it, new cases of HIV/AIDS are identified yearly, and the proportion of cases diagnosed in women continues to rise. Substance abuse plays a significant role in the spread of HIV among women. The majority of women are infected through injection drug use or sexual intercourse with a male partner who injects drugs. Women who inject drugs are more likely than their male counterparts to share syringes and other injection equipment. Substance abuse also contributes to sexual transmission by increasing women’s engagement in high risk sexual behaviors. Factors that increase HIV risk in substance abusing women include participation in sex work, race/ethnicity, and being a victim of sexual violence. Substance abuse treatment appears to decrease rates of high risk drug use behaviors but has little impact on sexual risk behaviors. Women are less likely than men to have access to highly active anti-retroviral treatments, and substance abuse interferes with women’s adherence to treatment regimens. Methods of prevention that have proven effective in reducing HIV transmission in other populations are insufficient for women who abuse drugs, and more intensive interventions and those that extend their focus from the individual to their social networks and sexual partners are recommended.

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