Nearly everybody uses some form of drug. Most people use legal drugs like coffee, tea or chocolate, and many others drink alcohol or smoke tobacco. Some people with HIV also use other sorts of drugs, some of which can be bought legally and some of which are illegal. These are often called ‘recreational’ drugs, and include cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine, crack, crystal ‘meth’ (methamphetamine), ecstasy, heroin and ‘poppers’ and recreational use of sexual dysfunction drugs such as Viagra.
Anti-HIV drugs can interact with many other drugs, including some recreational drugs. These interactions can affect the levels of either drug in your system. This could mean you don’t have enough anti-HIV drug in your blood for it to work properly, or that you have too much which can increase side-effects. Interactions can also cause serious health problems such as a dramatic drop in blood pressure.
Recreational drugs can also cause other health problems, such as heart and lung problems, mental health problems and increased risk of certain cancers.
If you are taking a lot of recreational drugs, you may have more difficulty taking your HIV treatment properly (‘adherence’), or you may not look after your health – perhaps not eating well or getting enough sleep.
If you are caught with illegal drugs you may be prosecuted. A first offence involving possession of drugs is likely to involve a fine or caution. But this would mean that you have a criminal record. Regular offenders, and people who sell or smuggle drugs, can expect to face a prison sentence, and having HIV is unlikely to mean that the courts will deal with you more leniently.
HIV can be transmitted by sharing drug injecting equipment, including water, spoons, needles and syringes. Safer injecting will reduce the chances of you passing on HIV, reduce the chances of you picking up other blood-borne infections, protect you from dirty hits, and protect you from pain and injury when you inject.
There’s lots of advice and support available if you’re worried about your drug use. Talk to your healthcare team at your HIV clinic or to your GP. You can find out more about services and support on the NHS Choices website.