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Recreational drugs and HIV

a line of drugs on a table

Recreational drug use and HIV have been known to be connected for some time. Drug use could lead someone to have risky sex which results in them becoming HIV positive, or they may use alcohol or drugs to deal with the stress of being HIV positive.

People have their own individual reasons for taking recreational drugs. These may include wanting to relax or get excited, to enhance sexual pleasure or because of peer pressure.

It is important to remember that - apart from nicotine, alcohol and caffeine - virtually all recreational drugs are illegal. The UK Home Office uses a drug classification system to outline the legal implications if you are caught with them.

If you take drugs at sex parties, chillouts or saunas, you can find out more about chemsex and get support from our Friday/Monday website.

How do drugs affect my body?

Once they get inside you most drugs go into your bloodstream, which takes the drug to your brain. There it triggers different responses, changing your heartbeat, blood pressure, liver or kidney function, mood and how you see, hear or feel things.

Reactions differ from person to person but you may be much more likely to take sexual risks that you would usually avoid.

How do drugs affect my HIV treatment?

If you are HIV positive and you are on HIV drugs, then you already have a constant amount of prescription drugs in your system. Adding recreational drugs to that carries risks - your body is already processing your HIV medication so it cannot process recreational drugs as easily as a person not on HIV medication.

Read an introduction to the most common known interactions.

Another danger of taking drugs when you’re on HIV medication is that you could forget to take your medication at the right time – or at all.

It is always advisable to check with your HIV doctor. They should be used to dealing with questions about illegal drugs. But if you feel you can’t talk to your doctor, there is also THT Direct and I-Base.



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 31/3/2015 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 31/3/2018

Content Author: R. Scholey

Current Owner: Health Promotion

More information:

Recreational Drugs and HIV/AIDS, Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society (various dates to 2009) 

Recreational Drugs and HIV AIDS Infonet Fact Sheet 494, The Body (2014)

Drugs and the Law, gov.uk, January 2015