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Hepatitis C and Alcohol

By

Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the HealthGrades advertising policy.

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Safe Sex Guidelines for Hepatitis C

Protect your partner by taking these steps to reduce your risk of transmitting the virus during sex.
Alcohol

When it comes to your liver, hepatitis C and alcohol are a double whammy. That's a big problem because your liver is one of the most important organs in your body. The hepatitis C virus attacks the liver. Drinking alcohol increases the amount of damage that's done. Over time, hepatitis C can cause scar tissue to develop in the liver. Alcohol speeds up this process, too.

So, if you drink, the damage being done to your liver is not only worse, but it happens much faster.

How Alcohol and Hepatitis C Affect the Liver

In the last few years, a lot has changed in the way we treat hepatitis C. Do you know all the facts?

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Oct 23, 2015

Alcohol is toxic to the liver. This is true for all people, even those who don't have hepatitis C. But, if you do have the virus, the damage from alcohol is even greater. Learning what your liver does can help you understand why.

Your liver has many jobs. First, it works as a metabolic factory. The liver takes certain substances in your bloodstream, like sugars and proteins, and turns them into other things your body needs. The liver stores essential nutrients and releases them when your body needs them.

The liver also acts like a filter. Blood passes through the liver. As this happens, it breaks down alcohol and other harmful chemicals and cleans your blood.

However, if you have hepatitis C, your liver can't do these jobs as well. The virus makes it hard for the liver to break down alcohol. This means the toxins in alcohol are not completely removed from your body.

Normally, the liver can repair itself if it's damaged by infection or injury. But if it's constantly under attack from a virus, drugs or alcohol, scar tissue can develop, replacing healthy liver tissue. This damage is more difficult to repair. Over time, this can lead to severe permanent scarring of the liver. That's a serious health condition called cirrhosis.

The bottom line: Both hepatitis C and alcohol damage the liver. If you have this viral infection and you drink alcohol, your chances of developing cirrhosis are much greater.

Alcohol Can Also Affect Hepatitis C Treatment

If you are infected with the Hepatitis C virus, the more you drink each week, the more hepatitis C virus accumulates in the liver. That's because heavy drinking weakens your immune system. This means that alcohol makes your body less able to fight off the virus—increasing the viral burden.

If your liver is working overtime to get rid of alcohol, the virus has more chances to cause damage.

Alcohol can also make your hepatitis C treatment less effective. What's more, drinking can worsen the side effects of your medication.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

The more you drink, the worse the damage gets and the faster it happens. There's no "safe" level of alcohol for people with hepatitis C. The best thing you can do is avoid alcohol entirely.

People with hepatitis C who do not drink are much less likely to develop severe liver disease. This is true even up to 40 years after being infected with the virus. On the flip side, after 40 years of hepatitis C infection, most heavy drinkers have cirrhosis.

If you do drink, limit how much you have. If you have more than two alcoholic drinks daily or drink on most days of the week, take steps to cut back.

Tips for Cutting Back on Alcohol

Changing your drinking habits may not be easy. This could take time, so don't give up. The following ideas will help you limit how much alcohol you drink:

  • Don't keep a lot of alcohol in your home. Or, get rid of it altogether.
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jun 22, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Alcohol and Hepatitis C. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-4/245-254.htm
  2. Tips to try. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/Thinking-about-a-change/strategies-for-cutting-down/Tips-To-Try.aspx
  3.  Viral Hepatitis: Keeping Your Liver Healthy. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/basics/keeping-liver-healthy.asp
  4. The liver is a factory. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/basics/liver-as-factory.asp
  5. The liver is a filter. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/basics/liver-as-filter.asp
  6. Overview of the liver. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/basics/liver-overview.asp
  7. Reversing liver damage. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/basics/reversing-liver-damage.asp
  8. Alcohol and Hepatitis: Entire Lesson. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/daily/alcohol/single-page.asp

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