Hepatitis C and Addiction


Susan Fishman

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Hepatitis C often goes hand in hand with drugs and alcohol. If you have hepatitis C you may already know the struggles and pain of addiction. But there are also some serious health consequences.

Drug Use

Often hepatitis C, a disease transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, begins with drug use when people share needles to inject drugs or straws to snort cocaine. Once you have hepatitis C, the continued use of drugs can complicate matters. Not only can it do harm to your liver, but because drug use is addictive, injection drug users (IDUs) often repeatedly share needles or straws, which can make the users “super-spreaders” of the virus. A recent study reported that each IDU infected with hepatitis C is likely to infect about 20 others within the first three years of initial infection.

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 Use

The use of alcohol is also dangerous for those with hepatitis C. Hepatitis C alone can cause inflammation of the liver, leading to cirrhosis, a condition in which normal healthy liver cells become damaged and replaced by scar tissue. It can affect your liver’s ability to function, which, in turn, affects many other functions of the body.

When alcohol is added to the mix, your liver may be further damaged, especially if taken with acetaminophen (found in Tylenol or other cold and headache medicines). Talk to your doctor before taking any medicines, including over-the counter or alternative treatments.

One of the most important functions of the liver is to break down toxic substances and filter them out of your body. Drinking too much can not only lead to  cirrhosis, but also advanced liver disease, or even  liver cancer

What Can Help

For people with hepatitis C, there is no safe amount of alcohol. And it doesn’t help to switch from “hard” liquor to beer or wine. The best thing you can do is avoid alcohol completely, especially if you are being treated for hepatitis C.

There is currently no cure for cirrhosis, but sometimes drugs and or diuretics are prescribed to slow or minimize progression of the disease. Reducing your salt intake can also be helpful. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have any of the following symptoms of cirrhosis:

  • fatigue (often the first and only sign)

  • nausea and vomiting (with weight loss)

  • enlarged liver

  • loss of appetite

  • itching

  • jaundice (yellow skin and white eyes)

  • gallstones

  • buildup of water in the abdomen or legs

  • bruising or bleeding easily 


If you’re ready to stop using drugs or alcohol, talk to your doctor or someone else you trust about getting into a treatment program. You can also contact these agencies for help and support:

Many people find it helpful to talk with others living with  hepatitis C, especially as it relates to a drug or alcohol addiction. Group treatment programs, or one-on-one discussions, allow you to talk with others who are going through similar issues, such as handling medication side effects, daily living with hepatitis C and difficult feelings, in a way you may not be able to share with your family and friends.

Here are some places to get more information and find a support program near you:

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 13, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Special Challenges for People with Substance Abuse. American Liver Foundation. http://hepc.liverfoundation.org/support/special-challenges-for-people-with-substance-abuse/
  2. Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public. Centers for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/c/cfaq.htm
  3. How does drug addiction treatment help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C (HCV), and other infectious diseases? National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third...
  4. Viral Hepatitis — A Very Real Consequence of Substance Use. National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/viral-hepatitis-very-real-consequence-substance-use
  5. What Hepatitis C May Tell Us About Drug Use and Addiction. National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/08/17/158984470/what-hepatitis-c-tells-us-about-drug-use-and-addi...

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