Addiction and Hepatitis
Hepatitis is a medical term used to describe inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that filters all the blood in your body of toxins such as drugs or alcohol. It also aids in the digestion of fats and the excretion of waste.
If it becomes inflamed, it will not be able to do its job correctly and your health will be affected.
Excessive drug and/or alcohol abuse can facilitate the spread of hepatitis by increasing a user’s chances of engaging in risky behaviours that can lead to contracting the illness, but drugs and alcohol can also cause some forms of hepatitis.
There are several different types of hepatitis, and the illness can be viral or metabolic.
1. Viral hepatitis
Hepatitis B (HBV) is spread through blood and other bodily fluids such as semen. It is most commonly spread through sexual contact or sharing a needle with an infected person.
Many adults who contract hepatitis B may not require medication as often the body can rid itself of the virus in a few months.
However, a diagnosis of chronic hepatitis (if the virus is detected in your body for 6 months or more) will require treatment and regular check-ups with your healthcare provider (1).
If you are diagnosed with hepatitis B, it is important to let close relatives, friends, and any sexual partners know and take precautions to stop it from spreading to others.
Hepatitis C (HCV) is similar to hepatitis B in that it is spread through bodily fluids such as blood and semen. It is also most commonly spread through sexual activity or needle sharing with an infected person.
It is estimated that up to 1% of the UK population is living with chronic hepatitis C (2).
If you have hepatitis C, it is important to let those closest to you know and take appropriate steps to stop it from spreading on to anyone else.
Hepatitis D, otherwise known as ‘delta hepatitis’, is a defective virus that replicates a hepatitis B infection. It only occurs in those already infected with HBV, however, someone with both hepatitis B and hepatitis D can pass both forms on to the virus to someone who is not infected (3).
2. Alcoholic hepatitis
Alcoholic hepatitis, or alcohol-related liver disease, is inflammation of the liver caused by long-term, excessive alcohol abuse. It can lead to cirrhosis or even liver failure if not treated. Studies show that between 50% and 60% of people with alcoholic hepatitis develop cirrhosis (4).
3. Drug-induced hepatitis
Drug-induced hepatitis is when the ingredients of certain illegal or pharmaceutical drugs cause the liver to become inflamed. If this is caught in good time, the damage can be reversed by withdrawing from the drug that is causing the inflammation.
This is much easier to do when the person is not addicted to drugs. Most drugs can cause liver inflammation and there is no way to foretell how each drug will react within your body.
However, people with long-term drug addictions are at a higher risk of developing drug-induced hepatitis because of the volume of toxins going through the liver on a regular basis (5).
What are the symptoms of hepatitis?
Symptoms of hepatitis can vary from person to person, and in many cases, a person will not show signs of hepatitis right away. For many – especially in those with chronic hepatitis – symptoms may not be present until the damage to the liver starts to become more obvious.
Some of the most common symptoms of hepatitis are:
- Yellow tinge to the skin and eyes, this indicates jaundice
- Dark coloured urine
- Extreme fatigue
- Weight loss and lack of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Cold and flu-like symptoms
Once you have been assessed by a doctor, an ultrasound may reveal some internal symptoms such as:
- An enlarged liver
- An enlarged pancreas
- Fluid in your abdomen
- Gallbladder abnormalities
- Tumours on or around your liver
How is hepatitis diagnosed?
Firstly, your healthcare provider will take some information on your history to determine your risk factors for the various types of hepatitis. They will ask about your alcohol intake and drug use, as well as your family history.
They will feel your abdomen for pain or tenderness, and also evaluate whether or not your liver is enlarged. They will also check your skin and eyes for yellow tinges.
You will likely need to have some blood drawn to check your liver function and to check for any other viruses that might occur.
You may also need to have a liver biopsy done. This is when a doctor removes a sample of tissue from your liver to examine it more closely. This can determine the level of infection or inflammation within your liver.
How to treat hepatitis?
The treatment needed varies depending on which type of hepatitis you have.
Treatment for Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B does not usually require treatment unless it is chronic. In the case of chronic hepatitis, antiviral medication and regular check-ups with your healthcare provider will be required.
If you are at high risk of contracting hepatitis B, you may be offered the hepatitis B vaccine.
Treatment for Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is unlikely to resolve on its own and people with this type of hepatitis will need to take some antiviral medication to overcome the illness.
If this develops into a chronic condition, a liver transplant may be necessary.
Treatment for Hepatitis D
There is currently no treatment for hepatitis D, however, the hepatitis B vaccine may prevent it as hepatitis D only occurs in people who contract hepatitis B.
Treatment for Alcoholic hepatitis
If you are diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you need to stop consuming alcohol immediately. If this condition is caught early enough, it is possible to completely reverse the damage caused to the liver.
You may need to attend a rehab facility or be prescribed medication to help with any withdrawal symptoms.
In extreme cases, you may need a liver transplant. To be eligible for a transplant, you need to abstain from alcohol for at least 6 months and show promise that you will not become addicted to alcohol again in the future.
Treatment for Drug-induced hepatitis
You need to stop taking the drug that is causing the damage as soon as possible. If you are addicted to the drug that is causing the inflammation, you may require some time in rehab to overcome your addiction.
If your medication was for a different illness and you are not addicted, speak to your healthcare provider about alternative medications that you could take.