NIAAA Research 

Even moderate alcohol intake may harm people with hiv

Scientists have learned that alcohol use and abuse can contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS and affect treatment for infected patients.

  • Abusing alcohol or other drugs can impair judgment, leading a person to engage in risky sexual behaviors.
  • People who drink heavily may delay getting tested for HIV and, if they do test positive, they may postpone seeking treatment.
  • Alcohol use and abuse may make it difficult for infected patients to follow the complex medications regimen that is often prescribed to treat HIV/AIDS.
  • Alcohol abuse and dependence can contribute to conditions such as liver disease and other disorders that have an impact on the progression of HIV infection.

All of these factors increase the likelihood that an infected person will infect others or will go on to develop AIDS.

Learn more about NIAAA's research program on HIV/AIDS at:

Other NIAAA Activities in HIV/AIDS Research

Drinking has a big impact on the health of people with HIV/AIDS. Helping patients manage their alcohol use can go a long way toward improving health outcomes—especially over the long term. That is why studies on the connections between these issues are critical.

Beginning in 2001, NIAAA made building bridges between alcohol researchers and HIV/AIDS researchers a priority by establishing a longitudinal study of veterans with both HIV/AIDS and alcohol problems. That study, known as the Veterans Aging Cohort Study (VACS), included more than 6,000 alcohol-using veterans and a comparison cohort of more than 100,000 HIV-positive veterans. The VACS grew into a highly successful study that spawned more than 200 articles and presentations. It shed light on the significant effect alcohol has on HIV/AIDS outcomes, including morbidity and mortality. Researchers also developed the VACS Risk Index, which measures how frail an HIV/AIDS patient is based on a composite of medical indicators.

Now, NIAAA is building on the success of the VACS by bringing together a new group of researchers in both alcohol usage and HIV/AIDS. The Consortiums for HIV/AIDS and Alcohol Research Translation (CHAART) involves researchers at The Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, Brown University, Boston University, the University of Alabama, the University of Washington, and several Florida-based institutions. All of these institutions are already involved in both alcohol and AIDS research. All of them are studying large-scale cohorts, much like the VACS continues to do.

These consortiums will build on an infrastructure already in place and promote collaboration between multiple universities. The consortium model will help develop practical solutions for AIDS and alcohol-related problems in aging populations. Consortium members will openly share data on critical variables and outcome information for their interventions. They will also share their intervention research outcomes with a centralized operations research center located in New York City.

The operations research center includes mathematical researchers who model and simulate AIDS and alcohol interactions and then validate them against real-world outcomes. They will help translate research into a database of practical models that the medical community can implement in populations living with HIV/AIDS.

“The ultimate goal of these consortiums and the operations research center is to improve public health by synthesizing the outcomes of multiple strands of research,” explains Kendall J. Bryant, coordinator of Alcohol and AIDS research at NIAAA and scientific collaborator on CHAART.

NIAAA’s role is to provide scientific direction and funding to develop the structure for the collaboration. So far, the first phase of the project is complete. This phase included forming the consortiums, implementing alcohol and/or HIV interventions, and creating an administrative collaborative component to provide resources such as specimen banks, methodological data analysis, and executive steering committees.

Ultimately, the results of the research will become options that critical decision makers such as patients, providers, health care administrators, health policymakers, and the community in general can choose from to improve public health.

Collaborating institutions are investigating the effects of:

  • Integrated stepped care and pharmacotherapy on HIV-infected patients with unhealthy alcohol use (Yale University);
  • Naltrexone and topiramate on HIV-infected women with at-risk drinking (Florida institutions);
  • A brief intervention on HIV-infected gay men (Brown University);
  • A computerized brief intervention and pharmacotherapy on HIV-infected patients with at-risk drinking habits (The Johns Hopkins University); and
  • High-dose buprenorphine on HIV-infected patients who are also opioid dependent and heavy drinkers (Boston University).


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Kendall J. Bryant, Ph.D.
Director, HIV/AIDS Research, NIAAA
Scientific Collaborator, Consortia for HIV/AIDS and Alcohol Research Translation (CHAART)