April 24, 2015
A survey of 2,648 men enrolled in the Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS) found that HIV-positive men with detectable viral loads (VL, defined as > 500 copies/mL) needed fewer drinks to feel the effect of alcohol consumption than those with suppressed VL (< 500 copies/mL) or HIV-negative men. This trend held across age groups. Researchers hypothesized that "one potential reason for this finding could be that there is greater alcohol absorption in those with a detectable VL or untreated HIV disease due to the intestinal barrier dysfunction associated with HIV disease."
This study compared responses to the question "How many drinks of alcohol does it take for you to begin to feel a 'buzz' or high?" provided by participants in the VACS study. Of those who answered that question, 1170 were HIV negative and 1478 were HIV positive. In the latter group, 871 were virally suppressed and 607 had detectable VL. Those with detectable VL reported a mean of 2.8 drinks needed to begin to feel a buzz, while respondents with suppressed VL required 2.9 drinks and HIV-negative participants needed 3.2 drinks on average (P < .001).
When data were adjusted for body mass index (BMI), the difference in the number of drinks needed to feel intoxicated was statistically significant only between those with detectable viral loads and those who were HIV negative (P = 0.004). No such difference was detected between virally suppressed HIV-positive men and HIV-negative men (P = 0.3). Study authors concluded that "thresholds for alcohol consumption should perhaps be lower for those with HIV infection and that BMI should also be included when considering thresholds for hazardous alcohol consumption."
Other data studied included participants' ratings on the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test-Consumption, as well as whether they had an alcohol-related diagnosis. HIV-positive study participants were less likely to be diagnosed with an alcohol-related problem or classified as hazardous drinkers (14.3% of those with detectable VL fell into this category, and 12.7% of those with suppressed VL) than were HIV-negative participants (22.1%). Men in this category needed 1.4 more drinks to feel intoxicated than study participants classified as non-hazardous drinkers (P < .001).
Study authors called for more research to "examine whether this increased sensitivity is due to increased blood alcohol concentrations or decreased tolerance for similar levels."
Barbara Jungwirth is a freelance writer and translator based in New York.
Follow Barbara on Twitter: @reliabletran.
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