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Substance Use

Substance use refers to using legal drugs (like prescription pain medicines or alcohol) and/or illegal drugs (like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines). Substance abuse means that a person is using drugs or alcohol in a way that is harmful to his or her health and well-being.

How Can Substance Use Affect My Health?

Substance use, abuse, and dependence may damage your body and brain, and drug overdoses can cause death. This damage to your body and brain can negatively affect your health and well-being in many ways.

  • Physical effects:
    • Methamphetamines can lead to brain, liver, and kidney damage, impaired blood circulation, significant weight loss, and tooth decay.
    • Drugs like cocaine and heroin can seriously damage your respiratory and circulatory systems.
    • Methamphetamines and cocaine can negatively affect your immune system, making it easier for your body to get an infection.
    • Some substances interfere with HIV medicines that are part of an overall treatment plan.
  • Other effects:
    • The after-effects of a drug or alcohol “high” can create feelings of depression, exhaustion, pain, and/or irritability.
    • Getting high may cause you to forget to take your HIV medicines or forget to make and keep doctor and clinic appointments.
    • Using drugs can make it hard for you to maintain your house, job, relationships, and social supports—all of which are important for your well-being.
    • Using drugs can make you more prone to risky practices, such as sharing needles or not using condoms. This increases the chance that you could transmit HIV or get a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that could make your infection worse.

What Treatment Or Support Programs Are Available To Help Me With A Substance Use Or Dependence Problem?

Choosing to stop using drugs or alcohol is not easy, but it can be done. Quitting will improve your health, well-being, and relationships with others.

  • Different types of substance use require different types of treatment. Based on your level of dependence, you may need medical treatment and/or psychological therapy to help you quit. Talk with your health care provider to explore treatment options that are specific to your type of substance use.
  • Peer support and faith-based recovery groups may also help you manage substance use and dependence.

Support is available. Many organizations provide hotlines and guidance on substance abuse treatment options: