• Access;
  • adherence;
  • alcohol;
  • antiretroviral therapy;
  • HIV;
  • substance abuse treatment;
  • substance use


Aim  We examined the association of substance abuse treatment with uptake, adherence and virological response to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) among HIV-infected people with a history of alcohol problems.

Design  Prospective cohort study.

Methods  A standardized questionnaire was administered to 349 HIV-infected participants with a history of alcohol problems regarding demographics, substance use, use of substance abuse treatment and uptake of and adherence to HAART. These subjects were followed every 6 months for up to seven occasions. We defined substance abuse treatment services as any of the following in the past 6 months: 12 weeks in a half-way house or residential facility; 12 visits to a substance abuse counselor or mental health professional; or participation in any methadone maintenance program. Our outcome variables were uptake of antiretroviral therapy, 30-day self-reported adherence and HIV viral load suppression.

Findings  At baseline, 59% (205/349) of subjects were receiving HAART. Engagement in substance abuse treatment was independently associated with receiving antiretroviral therapy (adjusted OR; 95% CI: 1.70; 1.03–2.83). Substance abuse treatment was not associated with 30-day adherence or HIV viral load suppression. More depressive symptoms (0.48; 0.32–0.78) and use of drugs or alcohol in the previous 30 days (0.17; 0.11–0.28) were associated with worse 30-day adherence. HIV viral load suppression was positively associated with higher doses of antiretroviral medication (1.29; 1.15–1.45) and older age (1.04; 1.00–1.07) and negatively associated with use of drugs or alcohol in the previous 30 days (0.51; 0.33–0.78).

Conclusion  Substance abuse treatment was associated with receipt of HAART; however, it was not associated with adherence or HIV viral load suppression. Substance abuse treatment programs may provide an opportunity for HIV-infected people with alcohol or drug problems to openly address issues of HIV care including enhancing adherence to HAART.