Substance abuse, violence, and HIV in women: a literature review of the syndemic

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2011 Jul;20(7):991-1006. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2010.2328. Epub 2011 Jun 13.


Women in the United States are increasingly affected by HIV/AIDS. The SAVA syndemic-synergistic epidemics of substance abuse, violence, and HIV/AIDS-is highly prevalent among impoverished urban women and potentially associated with poor HIV outcomes. A review of the existing literature found 45 articles that examine SAVA's impact on (1) HIV-associated risk-taking behaviors, (2) mental health, (3) healthcare utilization and medication adherence, and (4) the bidirectional relationship between violence and HIV status. Overall, results confirm the profound impact of violence and victimization and how it is intertwined with poor decision making, increased risk taking and negative health consequences, particularly in the context of substance abuse. Among current findings, there remain diverse and inconsistent definitions for substance abuse, violence, mental illness, adherence, and healthcare utilization that confound interpretation of data. Future studies require standardization and operationalization of definitions for these terms. Development and adaptation of evidence-based interventions that incorporate prevention of violence and management of victimization to target this vulnerable group of women and thereby promote better health outcomes are urgently needed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Battered Women / statistics & numerical data
  • Comorbidity
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Crime Victims / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Seropositivity / epidemiology*
  • HIV Seropositivity / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk-Taking
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Women's Health*