A link has been found between increasing HIV infection rates and drug use. Specifically, stimulants, such as crystal meth have been associated with becoming HIV infected.
Crystal meth is considered a party drug, often used on the club circuits as a way to become freer. Free in every meaning of the word, including sexually free.
So, inpiduals of all different backgrounds, sexual orientations, colors and races utilize this drug, usually in combinations with others, to achieve the high they so desire. Unfortunately, along with this feeling of freedom, often come unsafe behaviors. So, what can be about it?
There are the traditional, HIV prevention programs which have been evolving since the start of the HIV epidemic in the early 1980’s, but what about the obvious link between drug use and HIV infection? It is no mystery that certain behaviors are more prevalent among those inpiduals utilizing crystal meth and other drugs. It is for this reason, that in a recent study, researchers found utilizing the twelve step program as a means of reducing crystal meth use, can also reduce rates of HIV infection.
What is the Twelve Step Program?
These programs are based on the idea that their only purpose is to work on personal recovery. The most famous of the twelve-step programs include Alcoholics Anonymous (the twelve steps for AA are listed below), which is basically a recovery guide from alcoholism. Since the onset of A.A., there have been many different groups that have used the AA principles for recovery. A branch of the said program is Crystal Meth Anonymous, which is the group in question here.
As the name implies, there are twelve steps or principles by which the program is run. They are as follows:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Why Would This Program Work to Reduce Rates of HIV Infection?
he twelve step programs are effective because inpiduals with similar experiences are supporting one another. There is the facility of both guidance and respect that comes with having had a certain life occurrence. Recipients of one’s thoughts or advice are often more welcomed and better received because the receiver feels the advice giver has the proper credentials. In effect, the twelve step program is a peer run group. Peer support has been found to be helpful in both drug reduction programs as well as with HIV prevention. Therefore, the combination of the two protocols, should naturally procure a satisfying and efficient result.
What Did the Study Find?
The University of Illinois at Chicago recruited 64 cocaine and methamphetamine using MSM (men who have sex with men) at Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings. In addition, participants were recruited at other twelve step meetings, HIV treatment clinics and through public advertising. Data collected from the participants, which was collected in an “open” fashion including questionnaires, indicated a few things:
- The majority of the inpiduals did not just use crystal meth. Most inpiduals utilized an array of various drugs with the most popular combination being crystal meth and cocaine or crack cocaine. There were IV drug users included in this number and out of this group of fifteen, thirteen were HIV positive.
- The data collected indicated that the participant’s risky sexual behavior declined in conjunction with participation in the Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings. Participants acknowledged the relationship between drug use and risky sexual behaviors. For instance, unprotected sexual anal intercourse dropped from seventy percent to twenty four percent. In addition, the number of sexual behaviors dropped from seven to one per month.
- For the HIV positive participants in the group, the reduction in risky behaviors was even larger. Participants consistently noted complications in sexual relations during recovery and even attributed reducing sexual risk behaviors because of a fear of drug relapse.
A Two for one Deal
In effect, reducing rates of crystal meth can fix two very pressing and current problems. HIV infection rates are consistently on the way up, and as they rise so does the financial and personal costs to both the inpidual infected and general population. Though the originators of the twelve step program probably never thought their plan could have as much influence as it indeed does, it's proving quite effective. Perhaps the best part of the twelve step program, as noted prior, is that it is peer based. Utilizing peers to transmit the message of a drug free existence as well as HIV safety serves as a reminder to continue positive behaviors both to the teacher and his or her recipient and that is the overall goal of the interaction.
Rachel Hayon, MPH, RN
Alcoholics Anonymous: the story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism. 4th ed. New York : Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001.
Cretzmeyer M, Sarrazin MV, Huber DL et al. Treatment of methamphetamine abuse: research findings and clinical directions. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 2003; 24: 267-77.
Lyons, T., Chandra, G., and Goldstein, J. Stimulant Use and HIV Risk Behavior: The Influence of Peer Support Group Participation. AIDS Education and Prevention, 18, pp. 461-473, 2006.
The Basic Text Chapter 8 - "We Do Recover" pp 70-71: The Basic Text 4th Ed. Van Nuys: Narcotics Anonymous World Services