Here's some disquieting and rather telling news: In a group of U.S. men who have sex with men (MSM), heavy drinking combined with 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 this question, investigators in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) studied 3,725 HIV-negative men enrolled in the cohort from 1984 to 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 -- that is, 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 recent Huffington Post blog post, was, on occasion, a heavy drinker. And near 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. With breakneck speed the disease ravaged this robust, muscular man. Sadly, as a result of AIDS-related complications, Alonzo passed away in 1996.
In a future blog post, I'll be exploring depression, particularly in African-American gay and bisexual men.
Wyatt O'Brian Evans is a journalist, instructor, motivational speaker and author of Nothing Can Tear Us Apart -- Uncensored and RAGE!, its upcoming sequel. To learn more about Wyatt, visit wyattobrianevans.com, and follow him on Facebook at the Wyatt O'Brian Evans Official Fan Club.