Navigate Up

UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Patients and medical professionals may call 1-800-533-UPMC (8762) for more information.

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.

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA |