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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Florida Examines Alcohol Use and Treatment in Women Living with HIV

A pair of recent University of Florida studies examines reasons for alcohol consumption and use of alcohol treatment among women living with HIV.

About half of women who are HIV positive report consuming alcohol and 14 to 24 percent drink at hazardous levels. Hazardous drinking can lead to adverse health effects, such as lower medication adherence and increased risky sexual behavior, and, as a result, higher levels of HIV virus in the body and more rapid disease progression. To better understand the unique reasons that women with HIV drink alcohol, a UF team conducted four focus groups in Jacksonville, FL, Washington, DC, and Chicago, IL.

“Most all of the existing data on alcohol and HIV is from studies that mostly included men,” said lead author Dr. Robert Cook, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine, and director of the Southern HIV Alcohol Research Consortium. “Women often drink alcohol for different reasons than men do. For example they are more likely to drink in response to depression. Therefore, we were interested in learning the consequences of drinking in women, as well as the potential benefits women get from drinking.”

The team found that women’s reasons for drinking included managing pain, coping with emotions or social engagement. Participants reported several consequences to their drinking, such as negative effects to their health, including poor medication adherence, risky or regrettable behavior and adverse effects on relationships. The findings appear in the journal BMC Public Health.

In the second study, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, a team led by Dr. Xingdi Hu, a recent graduate of the UF doctoral program in epidemiology, studied use of alcohol treatment programs in nearly 500 women with HIV who were participants in the Women’s Interagency HIV Study cohort. About one in five said they had recently used some kind of alcohol treatment, with Alcoholics Anonymous being the most commonly reported program.

“We were surprised to learn that women with fewer economic resources were more likely to obtain treatment,” said Dr. Cook, the study’s senior author. “Usually, it’s the other way around — people with more resources get more health services. But in this case, perhaps if participants were unemployed they had more time available to engage in treatment, or they could take advantage of a treatment program that has little to no costs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Taken together, the two studies provide researchers with important information for developing alcohol interventions and implementing them in public health settings.

“Our research suggests that women may be more receptive to treatment if we can ensure that we can manage any symptoms that they were treating with alcohol, such as pain or depression,” Dr. Cook said. “We also need to think of ways to provide substance abuse interventions that involve little or no cost, for example, cell phone apps.”