Children who are born with HIV typically hit standard adult milestones but often struggle with serious life challenges, such as mental health problems and substance use disorders, Reuters Health reports.

Publishing their findings in the journal Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data from the child and Adolescent Self-Awareness and Health Study, which is a longitudinal cohort of young adults in the United States who acquired HIV at birth as well as young adults who were born to an HIV-positive mother but who did not contract the virus (known as being perinatally exposed).

The study authors included in their analysis 340 young adults who enrolled in the study when they were between 9 and 16 years old, including 206 HIV-positive youths and 134 HIV-negative youths perinatally exposed to the virus. They also looked at data on 248 young adults who were between ages 18 and 25 after they had completed five years of follow-up, including a respective 151 and 97 HIV-positive individuals and HIV-negative but perinatally exposed individuals.

Both those with and without the virus reached adult milestones at similar rates. Sixty-seven percent graduated from high school or achieved an equivalent degree, 19 percent were enrolled in college and 42 percent were employed.

On the downside, 38 percent were neither in school nor working, 12 percent had been incarcerated and 16 percent had a history of homelessness. Twenty-seven percent had a psychiatric disorder, including 11 percent with a mood disorder, 22 percent with an anxiety disorder and 28 percent with a substance use disorder. Again, these rates did not differ based on the young people’s HIV status.

HIV status was also not associated with any differences in sexual behaviors. Ninety-three percent reported having sex and 41 percent reported having condomless intercourse. Forty-one percent of the women reported being pregnant and 23 percent had given birth. Thirty-eight percent of the men reported that they had gotten a partner pregnant.

The researchers concluded, “Given the staggering numbers of PHIVYAs [young adults with perinatally acquired HIV] worldwide, our findings reveal a critical need for integrated mental health, substance use, and health services for HIV-affected populations.”

To read the study abstract, click here.