Heavy Drinking Leads to Risky Injection Behavior in IV Drug Users

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Heavy Drinking Leads to Risky Injection Behavior in IV Drug UsersPeople who consume too much alcohol on a daily or weekly basis seriously increase their chances of developing diagnosable symptoms of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Public health officials refer to such a pattern of intake as heavy drinking or at-risk drinking. In a study published in March 2014 in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, a research team from Great Britain and China looked at the impact that heavy drinking has on the odds that any given user of IV (intravenous) drugs will engage in risky behaviors that increase his or her potential for exposure to HIV and other serious blood-borne infections.

What Is Heavy Drinking?

Any alcohol consumer has the potential to establish a pattern of drinking that makes him or her unusually likely to meet the criteria that doctors use to diagnose alcohol use disorder (alcoholism and alcohol abuse). As a rule, people who keep both their daily and weekly drinking levels in the low-to-moderate range have fairly small chances of experiencing diagnosable problems, while people who consume too much alcohol for their gender either daily or weekly have relatively heightened chances. Heavy-drinking men consume more than four standard alcohol servings a day and/or more than 14 standard servings a week; heavy-drinking women consume more than three standard alcohol servings a day and/or more than seven standard servings a week. The odds for experiencing problems related to at-risk drinking increase with the number of heavy-drinking episodes that occur in any given month.

IV Drug Use Risks

IV drug use is a risky behavior in any circumstance, largely because it rapidly introduces mind-altering substances such as opioid narcotics or cocaine into the bloodstream and brain. However, IV injectors can seriously increase their overall health risks by engaging in any one of a number of specific practices while involved in drug use. According to experts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, these practices include sharing unsterilized needles with other IV drug injectors, using any other IV injection paraphernalia (spoons, cotton filters, etc.) more than once and reusing any of the water in which an IV drug is dissolved. In addition to the HIV virus, potentially lethal infectious microorganisms passed among people who engage in unsanitary IV drug injection practices include the hepatitis B virus and the hepatitis C virus. Unsanitary IV injection practices can also expose users to infectious agents capable of causing severe localized tissue damage.

Contribution of Heavy Drinking

In the study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, researchers from King’s College London and China’s Yunnan Institute for Drug Abuse used an examination of 637 IV drug users seeking treatment for their condition to explore the connection between any given user’s level of alcohol intake and his or her chances of engaging in unsanitary and risky sharing practices with others. They undertook this exploration, in part, because of alcohol’s known potential to reduce self-control and increase the likelihood of impulsive behavior. To make sure that they focused on the impact of alcohol consumption, the researchers took steps to account for and eliminate the influence of other possible factors in dangerous injection practices, including such things as the particular substance in use, the employment status of the IV drug user and the user’s racial/ethnic background.

After completing their statistical analyses, the researchers concluded that, compared to IV drug users who don’t participate in heavy or at-risk drinking, those individuals who do participate in this type of drinking have about a 92 percent higher chance of sharing paraphernalia with other IV drug users in an unsafe manner.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notes that injection drug users who don’t participate in IV intake can also engage in the same unsanitary sharing practices as their IV-using counterparts. The two non-IV forms of drug injection are subcutaneous injection under the skin and intramuscular injection directly into muscle tissue. HHS experts also note that people who binge drink may be especially susceptible to the behavior-altering effects of alcohol. Binge drinkers consume enough alcohol in two hours or less to reach the blood alcohol level used to define legal intoxication in the U.S. (0.08 percent). The authors of the study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse believe that public health officials and program administrators must consider IV drug users’ alcohol intake when devising appropriate avenues of intervention and treatment.