Problem Drinking Affects Adherence to HIV Medication
PITTSBURGH, February 2, 2001 — Problem drinking affects medication adherence among individuals with HIV, according to a study by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Health Care. Failure to adhere to a strict schedule of medication severely limits an HIV patient’s survival.
“The results of this study emphasize the importance of screening for alcohol problems among persons with HIV,” said principal investigator Robert L. Cook, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. By identifying problem drinking, doctors can better treat their patients, providing them with the supervision and support they need to adhere to their medication regimens.
Alcohol consumption, including excessive drinking, is common in the HIV population, according to the study published in the February issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
“Problem drinking is a significant issue among persons with HIV infection, affecting at least one in five people in our clinics,” said Dr. Cook.
This is one of the first studies to look at the relationship between excessive drinking and medication adherence in those with HIV. HIV patients must follow a strict medication schedule; even a few missed doses or even taking HIV medications off schedule can result in viral resistance.
Dr. Cook and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh surveyed over 200 individuals with HIV about missed or off-schedule medication doses and about their drinking habits. The researchers categorized problem drinkers in three ways: women who had five alcoholic drinks and men who had six alcoholic drinks at one sitting at least once a month, women who had more than 12 drinks and men who had more than 16 drinks weekly; and women and men with high scores on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.
Problem drinkers were more likely to take their HIV medications off schedule, the researchers found. Nearly half of the problem drinkers reported taking their medication off schedule during the previous week, compared to 26 percent of those without problem drinking behaviors.
The researchers cautioned that clinicians should not assume that problem drinkers will be unable to follow complex medical regimens based on these study findings. They recommended that clinicians should instead work with patients individually to develop strategies to help them adhere to their HIV medications.
“Clinicians should monitor outcomes in both alcohol consumption and HIV medication adherence to most effectively assist their patients in achieving optimal long-term health,” said Dr. Cook.
The study was funded by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Health Care, located at UPMC Montefiore.