The more a person drink, the stronger becomes his/her intention to engage in unsafe sex, a new study has confirmed. Unsafe sex is the most important pathway to HIV infection, and it is a main risk factor for the global burden of disease.
Alcohol consumption, especially heavy drinking, has long been associated with HIV incidence. However, there have been doubts about the cause-and-effect relationship. Researchers weren't sure if alcohol consumption caused HIV via unsafe sex, or whether certain personality traits in individuals, such as sensation-seeking or a disposition to risky behaviour in general, would lead to both alcohol use and unsafe sex.
The new study summarizes the results of 12 experiments that tested this cause-and-effect relationship in a systematic way. After pooling the results, the researchers found that alcohol consumption affects decision-making, and that this impact rises with the amount of alcohol consumed - the more alcohol that participants consumed, the higher their willingness to engage in unsafe sex.
"Drinking has a causal effect on the likelihood to engage in unsafe sex, and thus should be included as a major factor in preventive efforts for HIV," noted Dr. J. Rehm, the Principal Investigator of the study. "This result also helps explain why people at risk often show this behaviour despite better knowledge: alcohol is influencing their decision processes," he added. The finding has been published in the January issue of the journal Addiction.