Some time ago, I wrote a Huffington Post Gay Voices column entitled, “Kickin’ One Back May Be One Too Many.” The piece deals with such an important and timely issue, that I’ve decided to re-introduce it.
So, here it is: in a group of U.S. men who have sex with men (MSM), heavy drinking plus having more than one unprotected receptive anal intercourse partner in the past two years doubled the risk of acquiring the HIV virus. And check this out: heavy drinking alone raised the risk of HIV infection by a whopping 60 percent.
The impact of heavy drinking on HIV infection –with or without unprotected receptive anal intercourse—is not well understood. Therefore, to address these issues, Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) investigators studied 3,725 HIV-negative men enrolled in the cohort from 1984-2008.
MACS is the first and largest study specifically created to examine the natural history of AIDS. Now in its third decade, this study involves nearly 7,000 MSM nationwide. MACS is ongoing at four institutions: UCLA, Northwestern University in Chicago, the University of Pittsburgh, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. With 2,000 participants, the UCLA site is the largest. And amazingly, after more than 25 years, the cumulative dropout rate is less than 15 percent. This reflects the participants’ high level of commitment and interest.
These men self-reported their drinking habits and the number of unprotected receptive anal intercourse partners. They reported drinking a median of eight drinks weekly, and 30 percent reported having multiple unprotected receptive anal intercourse partners in the past two years. During 35, 870 person-years of follow-up, 529 men became infected with HIV.
Statistical analysis determined that heavy drinking—in excess of 14 drinks weekly—raised the risk of HIV infection 61 percent. Among men with zero or one unprotected receptive anal intercourse partner in the past two years, heavy drinking did not significantly affect risk of HIV acquisition. However, among men with two or more partners, heavy drinking doubled the risk of infection.
According to the researchers, their findings “suggest that alcohol interventions to reduce heavy drinking among men who have sex with men should be integrated into existing HIV prevention activities.”
This study resonates so strongly with me because my ex-partner Alonzo, whom I wrote about in a Huffington Post Gay Voices column entitled “It’s (Just) The Way That I Love You,” was, on occasion, a heavy drinker. And nearing the end of our monogamous relationship, his drinking became even more excessive. Alonzo suffered from chronic depression, which certainly contributed to overindulging.
After we parted, Alonzo’s drinking worsened. It’s my understanding that that excess caused him to engage in unsafe sex. Subsequently, he contracted HIV, which developed into full-blown AIDS.
And with breakneck speed, the disease ravaged this robust, muscular man. And sadly, as a result of AIDS-related complication, Alonzo passed away in 1996.
In the coming months, I’ll be exploring and writing about LGBTQ depression, particularly in African-American men.