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Treating Hep C: Being Honest About Recreational Drug Use

How drug and alcohol use may interfere with getting cured of hep C.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, you may work with a combination of healthcare providers that includes: a hepatologist (a doctor that specializes in diseases of the liver), an infectious disease expert, a gastroenterologist, and your primary care physician. Treatments of Hepatitis C have improved remarkably over the years, and they’re now even more effective and produce fewer side effects.

However, the success of these treatments depends a great deal on the patient/provider relationship. For example, being honest with your healthcare provider about whether you’re using recreational drugs, including alcohol. This type of honesty is of extreme importance when treating hepatitis C because these substances can worsen your condition and/or prevent certain treatments from working well. Keeping important information from your healthcare provider puts your health at risk.

A dangerous combination
Here’s a closer look at how recreational drugs can affect hep C and hep C treatment:

  • They make the liver work harder. Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. When a person uses any type of drug (including alcohol), the liver has to work to break down the substance so it can be removed from the body. So someone with hep C who uses drugs is making an already strained liver work even harder.
  • They may interfere with the effectiveness of certain hep C treatments. Antivirals are commonly used as part of the treatment regimen for Hepatitis C. Antivirals help prevent the virus from replicating—or copying itself—and work to eliminate the virus from the bloodstream. But alcohol may interfere with antivirals and their intended effect.
  • They can contribute to cirrhosis and cancer. Each time your liver is injured (through the use of drugs or alcohol, for example), it tries to repair itself. But for those with hep C, tough scar tissue forms on the liver during these times of attempted repair. Over time, this scarring can become severe. This is called cirrhosis. As cirrhosis progresses, more and more scar tissue forms, making it increasingly difficult for the liver to perform its necessary functions. Late-stage cirrhosis can be life-threatening. Additionally, alcohol use is associated with the development of liver cancer after being cured of hep C.

Taking control of your health
Some complications of hep C may sound scary. But by refraining from using recreational drugs, including alcohol, you can help prevent your condition from progressing and ensure your treatment is doing its most effective work. If you’re looking for guidance and support, an honest conversation with your healthcare provider is a great first step. Your HCP can recommend programs, counselors, support groups, and other helpful resources.

Medically reviewed in December 2020.

Sources:
American Liver Foundation. "Treating Hepatitis C."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Hepatitis C."
The Hepatitis C Trust. "Drugs and alcohol."
MedlinePlus. "Hepatitis C."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hepatitis C."
NHS. "Overview: Alcohol-related liver disease."
Mayo Clinic. "Drinking alcohol: Is it safe after hepatitis C cure?"
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Hepatitis C Questions and Answers for Health Professional."

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