Abusing drugs and/or alcohol can lead to many negative health effects that can cause problems in various parts of the body. One of the most common health issues among alcoholics and drug users is hepatitis. This condition comes in variations such as viral, bacterial, chemical, and metabolically induced hepatitis. Regardless of the type, liver inflammation is the main cause of hepatitis-related issues. While some people contract the condition genetically, drug addiction and alcohol abuse are two of the leading causes of many hepatitis cases in the United States.
What Is Hepatitis?
The word “hepatitis” means “inflammation of the liver.” People who contract the virus suffer from many symptoms that disrupt their everyday lives. These symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, aching joints, and fever. Without treatment, many people who contract the virus develop extensive and even life-threatening liver damage that could necessitate a liver transplant.
Drug users and alcoholics are more likely to contract the virus than non-users. Because of this, it is important for those struggling with addiction to understand the risks and symptoms of the condition so that they can seek help if needed.
Taking your health into your own hands requires you to be open and honest about your drinking and drug habits. It also requires being proactive with your medical treatment by talking to your doctor and getting tested whenever you suspect you may have been exposed or infected.
Types of Hepatitis
There are four primary types of the infection that can be contracted through the exchange of bodily fluids via sexual acts or needle sharing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that around 1.2 million Americans are currently infected with hepatitis B, and the majority contracted it through injection drug use. Let’s take a closer look at the most common types of viral hepatitis associated with addiction.
Hepatitis A can last from several weeks to months. People can contract the condition by ingesting even microscopic amounts of infected fecal matter. Exposure can come from anywhere, including shared food or drinks and household objects. The trace amounts of feces left on people’s hands after using the restroom can cause them to spread the infected molecules to others.
Most people recover from this strand of the virus without any permanent damage. Despite the fact that hepatitis A rarely causes permanent issues, drug users, sexually active people, those with liver problems, and people who travel to places with poor sanitation should be vaccinated to reduce their risk of contracting and spreading the virus. The vaccine is highly effective in preventing someone from getting the virus even when there is a foodborne outbreak, which isn’t uncommon in the United States.
Hepatitis B (HBV)
HBV is the most common strand of the virus contracted by drug users and alcoholics. HBV can be contracted through sexual contact. Drug users who share needles are also at a high risk of getting HBV. Most cases of this type of hepatitis respond to treatment with no long-term health complications, but chronic cases can cause serious issues such as liver cancer, liver failure, and permanent liver damage that leads to cirrhosis.
Hepatitis C (HCV)
HCV is a blood-borne virus that is most commonly associated with drug use. People who share needles are at a high risk of transmitting and contracting HCV. For some people, HCV doesn’t last long, but as many as 85 percent of patients who contract HCV develop long-term complications that impact liver function and can even be fatal.
There is no preventative vaccine for HCV, and many people who struggle with drug addiction don’t even realize they have contracted anything because they experience no typical symptoms related to an illness. However, out of every 100 people infected with the virus, 75 to 85 will develop a chronic infection, and 10 to 20 will develop cirrhosis within 20 to 30 years. The CDC reports that an estimated 53.1 percent of drug users who inject with shared needles will contract HCV.
Even if you aren’t showing any symptoms, you should get tested if you use needles or inject drugs with others. The HCV virus is detectable one to two weeks after infection, and the antibodies are traceable anywhere between three to 12 weeks after infection.
Hepatitis D (HDV)
HDV is uncommon in the U.S. and only infects those who have untreated HBV. HDV comes in many variations that can range from acute and short-term to chronic. While there is no vaccination for HDV, uninfected individuals who get an HBV vaccination will be at a lower risk of contracting the virus later on.
Symptoms in Drug Users
The signs of an HCV infection in drug users can manifest anywhere from two weeks to six months after infection. Many people don’t even know they’re infected because of the lack of symptoms. Once the infection begins to present itself, people will experience a lot of side effects that are similar to a viral infection like the cold or flu. Some of the common HCV symptoms include:
- Mild fever
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle and joint pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gray stool
- Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
If you exhibit any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor and let them know that you might have contracted HCV from injecting drugs. If you’re still using drugs, then tell your doctor how often so that they can recommend a time schedule to get checked. Routine checkups will allow people struggling with drug addiction to prevent greater health risks from popping up later. However, the ultimate goal should be to stop using and eliminate the risk altogether.
Even if you don’t share needles with other users, cookers, cotton, wires, bands, and other drug preparation equipment can become contaminated. Fingers that touch infected blood or surfaces that have been contaminated can transmit the infection unbeknownst to users.
You should never share needles or syringes with another person no matter how well you know them. You should also thoroughly wash your hands before and after coming into contact with any drug equipment or blood.
Only around 20 percent of HCV cases will resolve on their own. For the other 80 percent of infected individuals, medical treatment is required to prevent the development of a chronic condition that damages the liver and puts the person’s life at risk. Various medications can treat an HCV infection.
If you have contracted HCV through drug use, now is a good time to also talk to your doctor about rehab and recovery options. Many people don’t think to get help for their addiction until they are diagnosed with an STD, an infection, or another health problem brought on by their substance use.
Alcohol contributes to the majority of metabolic cases of hepatitis. The sudden onset of metabolic infections puts alcoholics at an extremely high risk of death. Severe alcoholic hepatitis is life-threatening. In fact, up to 50 percent of patients with a severe case die within a month.
In order to treat this condition, a person must stop drinking all forms of alcohol immediately and begin treatment under a doctor’s supervision. Due to the fact that they have to stop drinking, people in the earlier stages of the infection may be able to reverse its effects and prevent further liver damage. Attending a treatment center and finding a good rehab program can also help reduce the risk of worsening the condition or developing it again in the future.
Depending on the type of virus you have, treatment options will vary. For many people, medications are the first course of action. With the disease running rampant in your system, the risk to your liver is higher. Doctors want to reduce the risk of organ damage or even failure at all costs, so cleansing the body, stopping drug or alcohol use, and eliminating the infection are the top priorities.
In cases of HBV, a round of several anti-viral medications may be prescribed. Blood tests, ultrasounds, and even a liver biopsy may be done to reach a definitive diagnosis and determine the extent of the infection’s damage to the liver.
If you’ve been exposed to HBV, immediate treatment is available to prevent the virus from taking hold. An antibody injection within the first 12 hours of exposure can protect you. At this time, you may also be offered an HBV vaccine if you’ve never had one to increase protection. To avoid the risk of chronic HBV, a unique injection called Interferon can be administered to young people.
Treatment of Hepatitis and Addiction in Severe Cases
For those whose addiction has caused significant damage to their liver, antibiotics alone won’t solve the problem. As a result of chronic HBV or HCV, people are more likely to develop cirrhosis or even liver cancer.
HCV slowly deteriorates the liver and can eventually lead a patient to require a transplant. Those diagnosed with an end-stage liver disease may experience memory problems, a loss of appetite, easy bleeding or bruising, and swelling in the abdomen caused by a buildup of fluid.
The only effective form of treatment for people who have sustained permanent liver damage is a transplant. Most people who receive a liver transplant because of HCV live at least five years after their surgery, but the virus almost always returns.
Addiction Treatment Is the Best Prevention
While you may want to get a vaccine and talk to your doctor about getting tested, the best way to prevent the infection is to quit using drugs or alcohol. So many people don’t realize that they have a serious substance abuse problem until their health is impacted in large ways. Don’t let this happen to you.
While you may require some medical treatment to repair the damage brought on by your drug use or drinking, rehab can prevent things from getting worse in the future. Without alcohol or drugs, your risk of liver damage, viruses, and other health issues will significantly decrease.
How do you get started? Right here and now. You can learn more about the available treatment options and explore the different risk factors as well as preventative actions you can take as you seek proper treatment. Reach out to certified rehab centers and learn more about their treatment programs to find one that suits your needs.
Addiction is a disease that gives way to many others. Addressing the root of the problem and getting clean once and for all are the best ways to prioritize your health, secure your well-being, and ensure a bright future.