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Alcohol intake for PLHIV

An HIV-positive Filipino is curious if he should already stop drinking alcohol, and Dr. Jose Narciso Melchor Sescon provides needed information on this.

Dr. Jose Narciso Melchor Sescon – president of the AIDS Society of the Philippines and current Chief of Clinics of Sta. Ana Hospital – answers all your HIV-related inquiries. For all your questions, email or

Dear Doc,

Since I tested HIV-positive in 2011, I have not had any alcoholic drinks anymore because I was told that this is something I need to discontinue. There are instances when my not drinking is becoming an issue – such as during events for work, with people starting to wonder why I do not drink alcoholic drinks anymore. I worry that I may have to disclose my status to them (and I am not yet ready); otherwise they’ll gossip about my status anyway.

My question is: Do I really have to stop drinking alcohol?

Mr. Occasional alcohol drinker

Alcohol use with HIV has been studied in animals and humans, as well as in-vitro. HIV patients who have had past alcohol problems and continue to drink, and who are on highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) have been found to have greater progression of the virus than those who don’t consume alcohol.

Alcohol use by HIV clients can increase replication of the virus in the body’s lymphocytes, as noted by Boston University researchers who discovered that HIV patients on HAART who drank moderate or high amounts of alcohol have lower T-cell, or immune fighting cell, counts than HIV patients on HAART who do not drink. Because chronic alcohol consumption causes immunodeficiency infections like tuberculosis and pneumonia, consuming alcohol while infected by the human immunodeficiency virus is likely to exacerbate such infections.

Furthermore, with continuous alcohol intake, PLHIV can have slow recovery from infections associated with HIV. Dr. Jeffrey Samet of Boston University School of Medicine determined that HIV patients who are not taking medications for the virus and who continue to drink alcohol risk the progression of the virus if they do not change their drinking habits.

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Also, the more alcohol a person imbibes, the more work his/her liver must do. Since the liver processes antiretroviral medications, the more alcohol an HIV patient drinks, the less able the liver is at processing the medications effectively.

Bottom line: Stay healthy by aiming for clean living.  Follow the recommendations and live and love life. Any healthy buff does it anyway, regardless of HIV status.


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