Medically Reviewed by Jonathan E. Kaplan, MD on January 12, 2022

Keep Treatment Under Control

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HIV drugs can keep you healthy and help you live a long life. They can also prevent the virus from spreading to people you have sex with. But be careful -- some things make it harder for the treatment to work. Know the best way to take your medicines so you will get the most out of them.

Skipping Doses

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HIV drugs work by slowing down how fast the virus can make copies of itself in your body. When you skip a dose of your meds, that gives HIV a chance to boost its numbers.  The more copies it makes, the bigger the odds that the virus will change into a type that can resist the drugs, which means they won’t work anymore.

Cross Resistance

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Once the virus changes to a form that resists your HIV medicine, it can also resist other types of HIV drugs, too, even if you’ve never taken them before. That’s called cross resistance. It’s another reason why it’s not a good idea to skip doses – it could give you fewer options for treatment that works.

Other Medications

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Other drugs you take can affect your HIV medicine. This includes prescription medications, drugs you buy over the counter, herbs, and nutritional supplements. They can make your treatment stop working well, or the combination of meds could give you new side effects. Tell your doctor about any other medicines you take, even if it’s just a vitamin. And don’t start taking something without asking them if it will affect your HIV treatment.

What You Eat and When

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Some HIV medicines move into your bloodstream more easily if you take the pills on an empty stomach. Others work better if you take them with food. Your doctor will help you sort out which is which. Also, ask them if there are any foods you should avoid. Some, like grapefruit juice, can get in the way of how well your HIV drugs work.

Drinking Alcohol and Getting High

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Your liver helps your body get rid of waste from HIV drugs. Drinking too much alcohol can damage that organ so it can’t do its job well. If you share needles to inject drugs, you raise your odds for infections that cause hepatitis, another condition that damages your liver. Getting drunk or high also could make it harder for you to take your medications the right way.

Side Effects

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HIV meds can cause other issues, like diarrhea, nausea, headaches, or aches and pains. If they’re bad enough, they may make you not want to take your medication. But you don’t have to just live with side effects. Your doctor can help you find ways to manage them so they don’t bother you as much. So don’t just stop taking your medicine – ask for help instead.

Pill Fatigue

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You might get tired of taking pills every day, especially if you’ve been taking them for a long time. This is called "pill fatigue" or "treatment fatigue." Your doctor can help you figure out a way to take your medication so that it becomes a habit and doesn’t feel like such a chore. Also, if you are taking several HIV pills each day, ask your doctor if your regimen can be simplified. That way you may be able to take fewer pills each day. A new injectable combination medication of cabotegravir and rilpivirine (Cabenuva) may offer the possibility of getting away from pills altogether.

Your Mental Health

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Stress, depression, other mental illnesses, and even a sense of shame about having HIV can make it tough for you to stick to treatment. Mental health treatment and support can offer relief, which will help you manage your HIV, too. Ask your doctor about medicine, therapy, and other resources that can help you.

Get the Most From Your Meds

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One of the best ways to guarantee HIV drugs will work well is to stick to your treatment schedule. Take your pills at the same time every day. You can set an alarm to remind you, or pair it with another part of your routine, like brushing your teeth or making coffee. Use a pill box to help you track your doses. Keep extra pills with you in case you’re away when it’s time to take your meds. If there are things that make it hard to take your medicine, such as trouble paying for it or alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.

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Show Sources


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US Department of Veterans Affairs: “Treatment Decisions for HIV,” “Food and Supplements: ARV Interactions.”

US Department of Health and Human Services: “HIV Treatment,” “Guidelines for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-1-Infected Adults and Adolescents.”

International Association of Providers of AIDS Care: “Fact Sheet 405: Adherence.”

University of California, San Francisco HIV InSite: “Drugs and Alcohol Overview.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Cirrhosis.” “Tips on Taking Your HIV Medication Every Day.”

UpToDate: “Patient education: Tips for taking HIV medications.”