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Binge Drinking Among MSM in New York City Linked to Increased HIV Risk, Study Says

January 7, 2009

Binge drinking -- or the consumption of five or more alcoholic beverages on one occasion -- may be contributing to an increased risk of HIV among men who have sex with men in New York City, according to a study released Monday by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the New York Times' "City Room" reports. For the study, titled "Alcohol Use and Risky Sex in New York City," the city's health department used data from its 2007 Community Health Survey and the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance project (Chan, "City Room," New York Times, 1/5).

According to the study, 24% of MSM in New York reported engaging in binge drinking at least once monthly, compared with a rate of 15% among the city's total adult population (Bindrim, Crain's New York Business, 1/5). The study found that binge drinkers were 50% more likely than non-binge drinkers -- and three times more likely than non-drinkers -- to report having two to four sexual partners in the previous year. In addition, 40% of MSM who engaged in binge drinking reported having five or more sexual partners in the past year, compared with 21% of non-binge drinking MSM. The report also used data from the surveillance study, which is based on interviews with MSM at gay bars and is not necessarily "representative of the gay population as a whole," according to the "City Room." This data indicate that 27% of MSM who had casual partners reported being under the influence of alcohol during their last sexual encounter, and 12% reported being under the influence of both alcohol and drugs. In addition, 48% of MSM who reported having 20 or more sexual partners in the past year reported being under the influence of alcohol during their last sexual encounter. The study also found that 65% of MSM who consumed alcohol were likely to use a condom during receptive anal intercourse, while 86% of non-drinking MSM were likely to use a condom during receptive anal sex.

Thomas Frieden, New York City's health commissioner, said, "Heavy drinkers are more likely to have multiple partners -- increasing their risk of HIV, [STIs] and unplanned pregnancy." According to Frieden, the prevalence of HIV and syphilis is rising among MSM in New York City ("City Room," New York Times, 1/5). Frieden added, "Many New Yorkers recognize that drinking increases the risk of injuries and auto accidents, but they may not recognize these other risks." Sean Cahill -- managing director of public policy, research and community health at Gay Men's Health Crisis -- said there is a "wide body of evidence" that consuming alcohol can lead to "lowered inhibitions and impaired judgment." He added that "people forget" that a "legal substance" such as alcohol can lead to an increased risk of HIV. According to Cahill, addressing binge drinking among MSM in New York City might prove difficult, because "gay bars are a site of social interaction and a site of community" among many MSM in the city.

The study also reported on binge drinking among teenagers and found that more than 25% of teens who drank alcohol in the last month reported having multiple sexual partners, compared with 11% of teens who did not drink. In addition, 60% of teens reported using condoms during sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, compared with 72% of teens not under the influence. About 14% of teens reported binge drinking during the past month (Crain's New York Business, 1/5).

Online The study is available online (.pdf).

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