Addiction and Hepatitis C

Hepatitis is one of the most common diseases affecting addicts who reuse needles or share needles with other addicts who have hepatitis. Although several different types of viral hepatitis exist, drug addicts who use needles are more likely to be diagnosed with hepatitis C than hepatitis A or B.

Since hepatitis is a viral disease, it’s difficult to treat with medications. Consequently, HCV often develops into a chronic condition that addicts must deal with the rest of their lives. When hepatitis viruses enter the bloodstream, they immediately target the liver where they use liver cells to replicate. A liver inflamed by HCV causes symptoms that emerge from the inability of the liver to purify the addict’s bloodstream and lymphatic system.

Like numerous virus strains, the hepatitis C virus can remain dormant for several years before it starts replicating in the liver and causing symptoms. What usually happens to addicts who contract HCV, but don’t immediately experience symptoms, is that as they continue using drugs and destroying their health, their immune system can no longer keep the virus in check. That’s when they finally develop full-blown hepatitis C.

Signs of an infection caused by hepatitis C from IV drug use include:

  • Recurring nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Itchy skin
  • Darker than normal urine color
  • Joint aches from accumulated toxins in the blood
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (more common in advanced hepatitis C)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Proneness to bruising

Transmission of HCV by sexual contact is rare. Most IV drug addicts develop hepatitis C using shared or dirty needles.

Treatment for Hepatitis C From Drug Use

Hepatitis C requires ongoing monitoring and treatment because it’s so resistant to medications. Depending on the extent of the liver damage suffered by an addict with HCV, a doctor may order a liver biopsy to determine what kind of medication would be most effective in reducing symptoms and supporting liver function.

Medications used to treat hepatitis C either improve the ability of the immune system to suppress the virus or attack the virus without involving the immune system. Interferons, ribavirin and protease inhibitor antiviral medications are prescribed to help HCV patients manage their symptoms. Although many of these medicines cause uncomfortable side effects such as fatigue, fever, nausea, anemia and hair loss, those living with hepatitis C need to take medications as prescribed to prevent progressive liver damage.

Hepatitis C From IV Drug Use — What Is the Prognosis?

Acute HCV is a much less destructive form of hepatitis C that lasts for a short time and resolves itself naturally. Alternately, chronic hepatitis C is the long-term form of HCV that may promote liver cancer or cirrhosis in advanced stages. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 75 and 85 percent of people diagnosed with hepatitis C eventually suffer chronic hepatitis C.

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, please contact 12 Keys Rehab today to learn how you can become part of a personalized addiction treatment program provided for clients in outpatient or inpatient rehab.

The Addiction Blog