Addiction and Hepatitis

Hepatitis can be described as an inflammation of the liver and is typically caused by a viral infection (although it can also be caused by liver damage from alcohol consumption).

In general, the Hepatitis virus is divided into five main categories, which include Types A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis types B and C are considered the worst forms and can lead to chronic diseases, such as liver cancer and liver cirrhosis. Hepatitis is mostly transmitted through contaminated blood or unsafe sexual conduct.

Substance abuse and Hepatitis

Around one in 12 people around the world live with Hepatitis B or C. The majority of Hepatitis C carriers are substance abusers, who contracted the virus via injecting drugs in an unsafe manner. Hepatitis is a commonplace disease amongst drug abusers who use needles unsafely. Among young substance abusers, the infection rate is very high, due to high risk behaviours such as injecting drugs or engaging in unprotected sex.

The Hepatitis virus is accompanied by serious health complications. Fortunately, Hepatitis C can be treated, while there is a vaccine for Hepatitis B which keeps the virus under control. If you are a substance abuser, there are a variety of reasons for you to seek help for your substance dependence; one of them is the possibility of contracting Hepatitis, which can lead to long-term health complications.

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Viral Hepatitis

Viral Hepatitis is best described as liver inflammation caused by a viral infection. The disease can present itself either in acute or chronic form. Hepatitis B and C (also commonly referred to as HBV and HCV respectively) are the most commonly contracted forms of Hepatitis amongst substance abusers, due to risky behaviour such as unprotected sex and the sharing of needles.

The risk of contracting viral Hepatitis A and B can be effectively minimised, thanks to the availability of vaccines. Meanwhile, there are effective courses of treatment for Hepatitis C, though they can be quite expensive. The majority of Hepatitis related deaths are caused by Hepatitis B and C.

Metabolic Hepatitis

Just like viral Hepatitis, metabolic Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. However, unlike the viral strain, metabolic Hepatitis is caused by a variety of toxins, like alcohol or drugs. The excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to liver cirrhosis and is a significant cause of Hepatitis.

Alcoholic Hepatitis can differ in terms of severity and treatability. For instance, alcoholic Hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer

(which are the most severe and the least treatable) differ from alcoholic steatosis, which is the least severe and most reversible. Alcoholic Hepatitis will gradually develop over years of long-term exposure to alcohol and is apparent in 10-20% of alcoholics. What typically influences the development of alcoholic Hepatitis is the duration and quantity of alcohol abuse.

On the other hand, toxic and drug-induced Hepatitis can be caused by the abuse of a variety of chemical agents, such as industrial toxins, medications and dietary or herbal supplements. The abuse of such substances can lead to either acute or chronic Hepatitis – possibly eventual liver failure. Many of the drug types commonly abused by substance abusers can cause liver injury.

How substance abuse results in viral Hepatitis

Alcohol and drug abuse greatly increase your risk of contracting viral Hepatitis. Risky sexual behaviour whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol can lead to the possible contraction of HBV (Hepatitis B), as well as HCV (Hepatitis C). Abusing drugs intravenously also places you at high risk of contracting HBV and HCV – especially if you are sharing needles or other drug utensils that expose you to the body fluids of those who’ve already contracted Hepatitis.

What is Hepatitis C?

Originally referred to as ‘non-A non-B Hepatitis’, Hepatitis C (HCV) is an RNA virus of the Flaviviridae family. HCV is typically contracted by coming into contact with the blood of an infected person. The virus can also be transmitted across the placenta.

HCV commonly results in chronic Hepatitis, which leads to cirrhosis in people carrying the virus. Hepatitis C patients are susceptible to developing severe Hepatitis in the event they also contract Hepatitis A or B as well. It’s for this reason that anyone with HCV should be immunised against Hepatitis A and B, and should also avoid alcohol.

Drug and alcohol addiction and Hepatitis C

Every year, over 350,000 people die from Hepatitis C related liver disease. There are more than 130 million people chronically infected with the virus. Hepatitis C does not escalate to chronic Hepatitis in every case, but there are a variety of risk factors which, if not effectively avoided, can lead to such a progression. One of the most prominent factors is substance addiction, borne of alcohol or drug abuse.

The Hepatitis C infection is transmitted when the blood (or other body fluid) of an infected party enters the body of an uninfected person. Intravenous drug use via shared needles and unsafe sex whilst under the influence are both major causes of the spreading of Hepatitis C amongst substance abusers. However, infection can also occur through contaminated blood transfusions, blood products, needle-stick injuries, as well as the sharing of personal items that have been tainted with blood carrying the HCV virus.

Fortunately, Hepatitis C is curable for some individuals, but for the disease to be cured, you’ll need to first go for a test to verify if you have the disease or not.

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Addiction treatment and Hepatitis C

Though it’s advisable, an addict doesn’t necessarily have to become abstinent before they can receive Hepatitis C treatment; this includes individuals addicted to alcohol or other substances that may be hazardous to the liver. However, continuous exposure to needles tainted with HCV can complicate treatment and recovery. When receiving treatment for Hepatitis C, it is recommended to try quitting substance abuse, as this will facilitate recovery and enhance the long-term effectiveness of treatment.

Regardless of your substance of abuse, addiction treatment is widely available and usually affordable, with some free options readily available. Outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment options can be found at most addiction facilities, as well as hospitals. If your addiction has been present for a long time, consult a doctor before attempting to detox. This is because withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to manage in such circumstances and potentially dangerous if not properly managed by a medical professional.

If you have Hepatitis and are an addict, addiction treatment should ideally be provided alongside Hepatitis C treatment. It’s vital that you let your medical caregiver know all the substances you’ve been using before commencing with addiction or Hepatitis treatment.

Staying substance-free during Hepatitis C treatment can be quite difficult for most addicts. This is because HCV medication such as Ribavirin and Interferon injections can induce some powerful side effects. For instance, Interferon can cause psychiatric reactions such as mania, severe depression, psychosis, and suicidal urges. To help addicts negotiate such side effects, specialised programmes are available to help manage their addiction whilst receiving HCV treatment.

Transmission of Hepatitis C via injection drug usage

It only takes one incident of sharing a syringe with an infected person for you to contract Hepatitis C. This means that you don’t have to be an active drug addict to be exposed. Just a single experimentation with injection drugs with an unsafe needle can expose you to the virus. This makes contracting Hepatitis C a major risk for anyone injecting drugs.

Once contracted, Hepatitis C can appear as an ‘acute’ or ‘chronic’ form of the disease. Acute form manifests as a short-term illness within six initial months of being exposed to the virus. If untreated, acute Hepatitis C can then escalate into a chronic viral infection of the liver. Chronic Hepatitis places liver function at great risk, and as such places your entire health in jeopardy. Fortunately, Hepatitis infection is treatable in most cases, with the application of antiviral drugs such as Ribavirin and Interferon.

Other modes of transmission

Even if present in microscopic amounts within the blood, Hepatitis C can be spread when the infected blood enters the body of an uninfected individual. Infected blood can enter the body of an uninfected individual via a variety of means, such as:

  • Sharing of contaminated equipment, such as needles, cotton filtration, and syringes. For instance, if a sterile syringe is used with a contaminated cooker device, anyone who uses the syringe from that point will likely be exposed to the virus.
  • Receiving an organ transplant or blood transfusion from an infected individual.
  • Poor infection control within a treatment facility can also result in an HCV outbreak.

DrugWarFacts states that over 60% of new Hepatitis C cases come from injection drug usage. Many people are aware that sharing a needle is dangerous, but very few know that the sharing of any equipment is just as dangerous. One infected piece of apparatus can compromise all other equipment, as the virus can jump from one such item to the next, thus placing a drug user at great risk.

Contributing factors

Intravenous substance users have high rates of infection and this has created a risky avenue for new users to easily become infected with Hepatitis C, not long after they first start abusing drugs with a needle. These circumstances have increased the rate at which HCV spreads. However, there are other factors contributing to the increased spread of HCV and other types of blood-borne viruses.

People with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus – another virus that’s transmitted through blood) are at serious risk of worsening their condition if exposed to HCV. This is because HIV attacks the immune system, which makes exposure to HCV even more deadly, as the body’s immune system is too compromised to fight or manage the infection.

Contributing factors such as mental illness or alcohol addiction are also prevalent amongst people who engage in abusing drugs via a needle.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C infection

The symptoms of Hepatitis C can take as long as six months to five years before they actually become apparent in any way. The sooner you notice symptoms of HCV, the sooner you can get treatment. Subsequently, the sooner you treat it, the less likely you are to suffer any long-term health complications.

Below are a few of the most commonly witnessed symptoms of Hepatitis C infection:

  • Abdominal tenderness around where liver is situated
  • Frequent fevers
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

Effects of ongoing drug use

If you are a substance abuser and have received a Hepatitis C diagnosis, it‘s advisable to promptly seek drug rehabilitation treatment so as to minimise the risk of the HCV infection worsening.

Ongoing drug use (or other substance abuse in whatever form) will increase the amount of strain being placed on your liver to rid your body of excess toxins. This can be difficult for a liver already fighting an infection. Additional strain on the liver will reduce its ability to regenerate much needed new cells, as the HCV virus continues to overcome existing ones. Over time, continued substance abuse will increase the rate of liver swelling and scarring, leading to significant damage.

The effects of substance abuse on an infected liver are especially serious amongst individuals who consume lots of alcohol. This is because alcohol severely impairs liver function when consumed in large amounts.

It’s in your best interests to enter a drug treatment programme once diagnosed with Hepatitis C, as continued substance abuse greatly increases the risk of developing chronic liver disease.

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Treatment considerations

Treatment for Hepatitis C often utilises pegylated Interferon and Ribavirin. To help reduce the rate at which the HCV virus spreads through the liver, antivirals are typically prescribed. However, if you are an alcoholic whose intake is heavy and frequent, your doctor may disqualify you from receiving antiviral treatment. This is because alcohol is capable of cancelling out the effects of the medication.

It’s vital that you get treatment for Hepatitis as soon as you can, once you’ve been exposed to the virus. There’s also the need to address any addiction issues you might have whilst receiving Hepatitis treatment. This will ensure that your drug habits (especially intravenous drug use) do not continue to expose you to further threats of the virus, as well as other possible life-threatening consequences.


FAQs

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis can be described as an inflammation of the liver. It is typically caused by a viral infection. In general, the Hepatitis virus is divided into five main categories, which include types A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis B and C are considered the worst forms and can lead to chronic diseases, such as liver cancer and liver cirrhosis. Hepatitis is most frequently transmitted through contaminated blood or unsafe sexual conduct.

How do I know if I am infected with viral Hepatitis?

Symptoms of Hepatitis may take years to develop. The only way to truly determine whether you have Hepatitis is to undergo a medical test. Generally, people who are infected with Hepatitis experience the following symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, joint pain, jaundice and grey-coloured stools.

What treatments are available for viral Hepatitis?

The treatment for Hepatitis C often utilises pegylated Interferon and Ribavirin. To help reduce the rate at which HCV virus spreads through the liver, antivirals are typically prescribed. Regular monitoring may also be required for signs of liver disease progression.

What other health challenges do IDUs with Hepatitis face?

IDUs (injection drug users) that have Hepatitis are often at significant risk of experiencing other health complications, such as mental illness and HIV/AIDS. IDUs in such instances often need to be cared for by multiple healthcare providers, which can make effective treatment more expensive. It’s for this reason that addiction treatment is essential amongst IDUs, as it is capable of reducing risky behaviours that may exacerbate Hepatitis complications, as well as the chances of spreading the virus to others.

What is the relationship between drug use and viral Hepatitis?

Alcohol and drug abuse greatly increase your risk of contracting viral Hepatitis. Risky sexual behaviour whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol can lead to the possible contraction of HBV (Hepatitis B), as well as HCV (Hepatitis C). Abusing drugs intravenously also places you at high risk of contracting HBV and HCV – especially if you are sharing needles (or other drug apparatus) that expose you to the body fluids of those who have already contracted Hepatitis.

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Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.

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