Alcoholism and alcohol abuse have always been thought to be linked to practices of unsafe sex, but a new study conducted at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario, Canada has now confirmed it. Unsafe sex is the number one cause for new HIV infections in North America. While alcohol use has long been connected with HIV cases and patients, a cause and effect relationship has previously never been able to be established. The question the researchers were looking to answer was whether or not unsafe sex that was the effect of alcohol use or alcoholism actually led to new HIV infections, or if there were other variables at play. These other variables could have been individual character traits such as a person’s tendency towards high-risk behavior or thrill seeking for example, with one of those personality traits being the primary link to the unsafe sex, and then the alcohol abuse being secondary.
The first cause and effect behavior the study was able to prove was that alcohol does have a direct impact on an individual’s decision-making ability, and the more alcohol that you consume, the larger impact it has. The study took it one step further and discovered that the more alcohol their research participants consumed, the more willing they were to engage in unsafe sex. They were even numerically able to establish that with each 0.1 milligrams per milliliter increase in an individual’s blood alcohol level, the effect was that the individual was five percent more like to engage in unsafe sex. Take this ratio and apply it to an individual with alcoholism, and you have a person whose decision-making ability is chronically at risk and is therefore at an increased risk of engaging in unsafe sex and subsequently at a greater risk for contracting HIV.
These studies were completed with the intention of trying to find ways to prevent unsafe sex as a preventative measure for eliminating the spread of HIV. Since this study proved that alcoholism and alcohol abuse do in fact have a direct effect on an individual’s likelihood to engage in unsafe sex, drinking now has to be included as a serious consideration in future HIV prevention efforts. Jurgen Rehm, the director of social and epidemiological research at the Centre also concluded that “this result also helps explain why people at risk often show this behavior despite better knowledge: Alcohol is influencing their decision processes.”