Alcohol is a drug that is produced by natural fermentation mechanisms. It is legally available in the United Kingdom from licensed outlets to people aged over 18 years and is enjoyed and used safely by many people. However, alcohol is a major cause of health and social problems, and, after tobacco, causes more deaths in the United Kingdom than any other drug.

Alcohol relaxes the brain and body, and many people find moderate drinking helps relieve stress, and acts as an appetite stimulant. However, long-term heavy alcohol consumption can cause ill health, affecting the liver, heart and brain, and may worsen the brain impairment seen in some patients with HIV.1 2 Heavy alcohol use can also lead to physical and psychological dependence.

There is no evidence that moderate drinking does any harm to people with HIV. However, patients with hepatitis or high levels of blood fats may have to reduce their alcohol take or stop drinking alcohol altogether. Heavy drinking can also affect the immune system and may slow down recovery from infections.

A study in macaques has also suggested that alcohol abuse can lead to elevated viral loads, possibly increasing disease progression.3 4 While this relationship has not been observed in HIV-positive patients who are not taking antiretroviral therapy, heavy drinking has been linked to higher viral loads in those taking treatment, possibly due to problems with adherence.5 6

The liver damage that can occur with long-term heavy alcohol use can also interfere with the break-down of some antiretroviral drugs and can increase the likelihood of patients experience side-effects from anti-HIV drugs, particularly protease inhibitors.7 The blood fat increases caused by some anti-HIV drugs can also be made worse by heavy drinking.


  1. Rothlind JC et al. Heavy alcohol consumption in individuals with HIV infection: effects on neuropsychological performance. J Int Neuropsychol Soc 11: 70-83, 2005
  2. Green JE et al. The effect of previous alcohol abuse on cognitive function in HIV infection. Am J Psychiatr 161: 249-254, 2004
  3. Kumar R et al. Increased viral replication in simian immunodeficiency virus / simian-HIV-infected macaques with self-administering model of chronic alcohol consumption. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 39: 386-390, 2005
  4. Poonia B et al. Chronic alcohol consumption results in higher simian immunodeficiency virus replication in mucosally inoculated rhesus macaques. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses 22: 589-594, 2006
  5. Samet JH et al. Alcohol consumption and HIV disease progression: are they related? Alcohol Clin Exp Res 27: 862-867, 2003
  6. Samet JH et al. Alcohol consumption and antiretroviral adherence among HIV-infected persons with alcohol problems. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 28: 572-577, 2004
  7. Fabris P et al. Does alcohol intake affect highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) response in HIV-infected patients? J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 25: 92-93, 2000

Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.