A spritz can make HIVers healthier—but a splurge can cause the ultimate hangover

The HIVer Appeal:
Life with HIV can be stressful, to say the least—and there’s nothing that can chill us out or warm us up like a nice glass of Merlot or a perfectly mixed martini. And for anxious HIVers, whose meds often boost cholesterol and heart-disease risk, liquor is truly therapeutic: Research shows that a daily glass of red wine or alcohol can help control cholesterol, hike antioxidants and unclog arteries.

Why booze and HIV don’t mix:
But more than two drinks (one for women) a day creates numerous HIV-related hazards. An NIH study showed that alcohol can reduce CD4 function, prompting HIV to multiply faster, which taxes the brain and central nervous system. Booze and HAART make especially poor playmates: Together they stress the liver (particularly in the hepatitis-co-infected) and sap med potency, while inviting kidney stones, pancreatitis and insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. Lushing can also encourage erratic HAART adherence and treatment-spoiling resistance. And though alcohol may seem to salve depression and anxiety, it can actually mask and intensify them, interfering with diagnosis and treatment.

Do you need help?
Drop by and try the 12-question “Is AA For You?” quiz. It will help you determine whether drinking is cramping your style—a question only you can answer.

The Big Fix:
Alcoholics Anonymous is the time-honored (and free) option, with thousands of meetings all over the world—many just for women, people of color, lesbians, gays and/or HIVers. Contrary to popular belief, AA is not a Christian program, or even a religious one—but it does call its 12-step recovery path “spiritual” and recommends that people find their own definition of God. But AA’s not your only hope (see “Recovery Rooms” ). Plenty of other resources, many of them oriented toward HIVers, can help you stop or moderate your drinking—and restore your natural high.