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6 Reasons Why People Skip Their HIV Meds

By Kellee Terrell

September 1, 2011

Reasons Why People Skip Their Meds

We all know why it's important to take your HIV medications every day. It keeps the virus in check, keeps you healthy and decreases your chances of becoming resistant to the meds.

But let's face it: For most people, taking HIV medications every day as prescribed isn't the easiest thing to do.

And anyone who says otherwise is lying. The reality is that everyday life brings with it obstacles that can block the way between you and your meds.

Read on for a quick rundown of some of the common reasons why people skip their meds.

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"Honestly, it just slipped my mind"

"Honestly, it just slipped my mind."

How many times have you looked up and exclaimed, "Darn, I forgot to take my meds!" This happens more often than people admit. But remembering to take your meds is the key to compliance.

The key to remembering is tailoring your meds to your schedule. It's like the saying, "Nobody is forgotten when it is convenient to remember him." In order to remember to take your meds, you have to have a system that works with your routine, not against it.

"I can't always afford my meds."

"I can't always afford my meds."

Not all interruptions in treatment are based on things that you can control, especially when it comes to your cash flow. Whether you have lost your job and with it your health insurance; you never had health insurance; you don't qualify for government assistance; you were booted to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) waiting list; or your insurance doesn't cover the entire cost of your meds, being able to pay out of pocket can cost thousands a month. Those who don't have that kind of cash may find themselves going without.

This issue may not be fixable, but talk to your case manager about patient assistance programs to see what your next steps should be.

"My side effects are out of control."

"My side effects are out of control."

Side effects suck -- it's really that simple. Not everyone will experience them, but some will. And whether it's vomiting, diarrhea, wild dreams, nerve damage, higher cholesterol levels, lipodystrophy or depression, side effects can seriously impact your motivation to adhere to your medications.

The key is to be knowledgeable and know what to expect before you start treatment. Also, ask your health care provider how to manage minor side effects if they arise. If you do experience some side effects and they are intolerable, don't just quit your treatment altogether. Speak to your health care provider about other alternatives and the possibility of switching your regimen to something else.

"My housing isn't always stable."

"My housing isn't always stable."

In the 2010 documentary The Other City, one of the most heartbreaking moments was when J'Mia Edwards, an HIV-positive mother of three who was struggling to maintain her Section 8 housing, looked into the camera and said, "I need an apartment. My housing is my prevention."

For people living with HIV who are homeless or who have unstable housing, basic needs (such as food, clothing, shelter and caring for children) often outrank taking their meds. And no one can fault them for that.

Also, having a stable roof over your head means you have a safe place to store your medication and refrigerate it if needed.

"I have too much going on."

"I have too much going on."

Life doesn't stop because you have been diagnosed with a disease -- nor do your responsibilities. Whether it's a chaotic work schedule, taking care of loved ones or juggling a job and school, the act of getting your medications refilled regularly and taking your meds consistently is difficult to maintain when so much is expected of you.

But balance is important, especially when it comes to your health. If you can't take care of yourself first, how are you going to be able to take care of your other responsibilities if you get really sick?

"I'm depressed."

"I'm depressed."

Mental health issues are not uncommon for people living with HIV. Stigma, isolation and rejection can lead to depression and if that depression goes untreated, it can deeply impact your ability to adhere to your medications. Even worse: Depression in the HIV community is massively underdiagnosed.

HIV care providers need to step up and screen better for mental health issues. But that doesn't mean that you can't open up and talk to your provider about how you are feeling emotionally, especially if those feelings are a factor in why you are not taking your medicine.

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We don't want to make light of what you're going through. Getting an HIV diagnosis may feel like the worst thing that has ever happened to you. BUT PAY ATTENTION TO THIS: There is life after testing positive. So, TAKE A DEEP BREATH. No matter how alone you may feel right now, know that there is a big community of men and women out there ready to provide information, support, advice and many other resources. Browse through these pages and and gather strength from people living with HIV.

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