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Am I Responsible for My Friend's HIV Infection, Addiction and Death?

Thoughts on Meth, Prevention, Responsibility, and the Passing of Glee Star Cory Monteith

July 18, 2013

Aaron Laxton

Aaron Laxton

Do we have an obligation to intervene when our friends are engaging in behaviors that are dangerous and potentially deadly? Some of my closest friends and peers are shooting, snorting and sleeping their way to potential HIV infection and eventually death. Am I responsible through inaction for their ultimate demise?

We have all seen the commercials that teach us to stop a person who has been drinking from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle; however, why can I not do the same thing for other dangerous actions? It is time that all of us start to have real conversations with each other if we expect to turn the tide of new infections as well as the death of our generation by way of addiction to drugs such as crystal meth and heroin to name a few.

Recently Glee fans from around the world were saddened to hear of the sudden death of Cory Monteith, who played the lead character of Finn. Monteith made his own personal struggle with addiction public last year when he entered drug rehab for the first time. It now appears as if Monteith's battle with addiction to methamphetamines was still ongoing. Monteith's death follows on the heels of Spencer Cox, world-renowned AIDS activist, who also lost his battle with addiction, and only further serves to highlight the need for action.


Crystal Meth

As I travel across the United States sharing my experiences as a person living with HIV since June 6, 2011, one thing stands out to me: People are still using crystal meth. As a recovering addict, I can tell you that during the height of my addiction I would have loved for anyone to have told me how much I was hurting myself. What started out simply as something I would do while partying with friends soon became a major addiction that wrecked every aspect of my life, ending with my being becoming infected with HIV. I could have easily have been another Monteith or Cox. My life while using meth consisted of trolling hookup sites looking for my next trick, while looking for my next fix. There were never enough tricks and there was definitely never enough meth. Psychologically, I had devolved to a state of amphetamine-psychosis, a consequence of chronic amphetamine use. Symptoms mimic those of schizophrenia and include hallucinations, hearing voices, paranoia, mental confusion, loss of time, emotional flatness, not eating, and inability to sleep, just to name a few.

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Logging on to any hookup application or websites I'm continually amazed to see the headlines for "Party N Play", "PNP" all code for fellow-tweakers (a term used to describe a person who uses meth). Bathhouses are filled with guys who are doped up on chemicals; the actions they engage in while under the influence create a breeding ground, no pun intended, for new HIV infection.

You might ask, "How does this guy know about what goes on in my bathhouse?" My response is that I am most likely a card-carrying member of your bathhouse. I have no shame in disclosing the fact that I frequent bathhouses around the world. Regardless of what your social standing, we are all equalized when we are wandering the halls of the bathhouse in a towel simply looking for our next trick. It is time for us to have the tough conversations with our friends who are dealing with addiction.

The reality is that the bathhouses are filled with your friends who slip in after a night of partying. You may never know about it because they know that you would judge them. It is time to admit that you likely have at least one friend or acquaintance who is an addict but they believe they have it under control. All addicts think that they have it under control but the truth is that addiction is in control.


Raw, Bareback Sex

We need to face it that there are two messages being told. The most prevalent and politically correct message is that condoms need to be used each and every time that you have sex. The reality however is that not everyone wants to use condoms and consequently we are not wearing them, more personally ... I will not wear them. The reason that no one freely admits that we are not using condoms is because we do not want to be preached at and shamed. While condoms offer protection against exposure to HIV they are just one of many tools that we have currently. If we are truly committed to reducing stigma and having a conversation about reducing new HIV infections we must end the stigma surrounding unprotected sex. I will always choose to have no sex at all rather than to have sex with a condom.

It is time for us to have the tough conversations with each other regarding risk-reduction practices and prevention outside of simply putting a condom on. It is time to wake up and recognize that beating people over the head with the "condom" message isn't cutting it. A better conversation to have with friends who refuse to use condoms might be whether they have heard of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) or what other risk-reduction practices they use.

People are going to make their own choices regardless of how you feel about it. If we are committed to changing the tide of new HIV infections and addiction, then it is time for us to start having real conversations free of judgment and stigma. Are you responsible for your friend's HIV infection? That is only something that you can answer. Ultimately each person is responsible for their own actions; however as friends and family don't we have a higher responsibility to intervene when a person is engaging in behavior that presents a high probability of negative results such as HIV infection and in some cases death? Without these tough conversations then how many more of our friends fall victim to addiction and risky behavior?

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Word on the Street: PrEP Use By Gay and Bisexual Men
More Personal Stories About Gay Men, Substance Abuse and HIV/AIDS


This article was provided by TheBody.com.
 

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Tito (South Africa) Sat., Aug. 10, 2013 at 3:46 am EDT
I am so...thankfull I got this site to be more informed positively. I am dating a loving man who is HIV+ and I love him to bits...The problem is me, everytime we have sex and afterwards I stress about the what ifs..the last time we were together I had thrush and we had great sex but saw after we done that the condom was half on his penis. He just started taking med and we started the relationship using condoms. We talk about everything and I dont want to always bore him with the same Qs, did the condom bust or was everything fine...it spoils everything and I jst need help now about that incident where I had thrush, should I worry? We both dont have children, he is 39 yrs and I am 29 yrs can I concieve and if yes how? As I am HIV-. Thank u.
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Comment by: Aaron Laxton (St. Louis) Wed., Oct. 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm EDT
I cannot offer an answer as to whether you should worry or not. I will say that you should get tested since that is the only sure-way to know your status. Secondly I would say that you should probably consider PrEP since it is indicated for serodiscordant relationships. This would offer another layer of protection for you and your boyfriend. I hope that everything works out for you.


Comment by: Craig LaRue (Arkansas) Tue., Aug. 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm EDT
I liked that your article got published in spite of the fact that it contained the mesage that remaining HIV- is a preferrable condition to becoming HIV+. Publications supported by HIV medication companies generally don't allow that "judgemental" message to slip through. I want to know specificaly what you dislike about condoms. Do you lose your erection and find that embarrasing, or is your enjoyment of sex dependant on feeling a man ejaculate inside you? I never have sex without a condom and I want to know what men who hate them hate about them.
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Comment by: Aaron Laxton (St. Louis) Wed., Oct. 16, 2013 at 8:09 pm EDT
For me a I simply do not like condoms. Also as a gay male who bottoms I have always found that condoms can cause friction and so on. Yes there are lubes and things but for me condoms have never been a favorite thing to use. There is also the issue of a loss of intimacy due to the condom. There are just a few of the reasons why I do not like them.


Comment by: Felix Wong (London, UK) Fri., Aug. 2, 2013 at 9:54 am EDT
I think your views expressed in this article are contradictory.
On the one hand, you would have liked people to intervene when you were taking meth. On the other hand, you say that you would rather have no sex than sex with a condom.

HIV/AIDS adverts both in Europe and in the US are nothing compared to public health messages telling you not to smoke, not to be obese, not drive after drinking, with very drastic images being shown.
The pc message is not to tell ppl to wear condoms, but to suggest that using condoms is good, but then there are personal choices and risk taking etc etc etc.
No doctor would ever say the same about smoking, being obese, or driving after drinking. While in sex ed, the common stance now seems to be all about making choices and remaining non-judgemental, non-stigmatising a similar soft-core approach to other health issues would be subject of ridicule.

Wearing a condom is one simple but effective measure to prevent HIV infection, as is wearing gloves for fisting or getting fresh and clean needles for drug use.
Whether or not we use condoms is a matter of socialisation, as is smoking: If you look at American films from the 70s and 80s and then at the reality of life now, you see how much clear health messages can do, even when they require a price to pay in form of stigmatizing smokers.

Many of my friends saw the beginnings of HIV and how their friends succumbed to it, and they can simply not understand why ppl of my generation risk HIV infection when it's so easily preventable.

So, people have to be socialised accordingly. Of course bathhouses are great, but bring a condom. Make sure you always have some at hand.
Bare sex does not happen because ppl are too frightened, it happens because they think it's no big deal at all.
Yes, people need to have friends intervene, and that is true for bareback sex as much as it is for drug use.
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Comment by: Deneen R (Dallas, TX) Thu., Aug. 1, 2013 at 5:53 pm EDT
Relationships are not transitory experiences and should be treated with the care they deserve. Our relationships are precious and hard fought to get and keep. As such, we should offer from a place of love our concern and be prepared to be received or rejected. Either way, do not stop loving. When the time comes for that individual, they will remember your words and hopefully allow you to support them through. When we have made the choice and taken the risk to speak to their truth in love, the words of compassion because of the consequences from their addiction related behaviors can be heard and respected. It is a challenge to hear compassion 'after you have watched me suffer' and did not say anything. I want to always be the one that equips my friends to fly and I believe we do that with love.
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Comment by: Dave R (Amsterdam) Fri., Jul. 19, 2013 at 5:58 am EDT
This is a really interesting article, highlighting interesting dilemmas. 'Intervention' has become a powerful word with its own stigmas; so much so that many people avoid it rather than face the fall-out. Ultimately though, you have to ask yourself if you're being a friend or being a busybody. As you rightly say, it's a question only the individual can answer but sometimes I wish my friends would intervene more often!
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Comment by: Aaron Laxton (St. Louis, Mo. ) Fri., Jul. 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm EDT
I can tell you that I truly wish that my friends and others around me would have intervened when I was using. Personally I was ready for change and I believe that my friends speaking up would have truly helped. Thank you for taking the time to read this article and to comment. -Aaron


Comment by: Mark A. (Bangkok) Fri., Jul. 19, 2013 at 5:17 am EDT
It's along the lines of what Elizabeth Pisani calls the "Compassion Conundrum". Out of fear of interfering or offending, we turn a blind eye to the destructive behaviours of our friends. Then, when they end up infected/addicted etc, we come over all compassionate and talk openly about their situation and offer all the communication and support they need.
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Comment by: Aaron Laxton (St. Louis, Mo.) Fri., Jul. 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm EDT
Love sometimes means confronting tough issues and having these conversations. There is the chance that when the person is confronted that the person will continue their behavior however at least it has been brought to light and isn't being hidden anymore. I personally believe that when we do not speak up we are just as guilty of how the person ends up as they are. Thank you for reading the article and for your comments. -Aaron


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