Social relationships, stigma and adherence to antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS

AIDS Care. 2006 Nov;18(8):904-10. doi: 10.1080/09540120500330554.


Research on adherence to combination antiretroviral therapy has up to now focused largely upon problems of definition and measurement, and on the identification of barriers and supports. This paper examines the intersection between taking HAART and building a life with HIV/AIDS. Data consist of 214 qualitative interviews with 52 HIV-positive, active illegal drug users. A interpretive analysis drawing upon stigma and fear of disclosure as analytical constructs was applied to explain working tensions between efforts to develop social relationships on the one hand, and attempts to safeguard health through adherence on the other. The analysis specifies a mechanism through which stigma as a social process results in marginalization and exclusion. The hierarchical organization of multiple stigma is also noted. Loneliness and the desire for relatedness is intensified by drug use. Results suggest that persons with HIV/AIDS will not consistently subordinate other interests to prioritize adherence. Interventions aimed at supporting long-term adherence must address experienced conflicts between 'health' and 'life'.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance / psychology*
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stereotyping
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Truth Disclosure