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Addiction and Hepatitis: What’s the Connection and How Can I Get Help?

Addiction and hepatitis are often associated. There are different forms of hepatitis. Types of symptoms and severity depend on how the disease was contracted, substance use duration, and which toxin a person was exposed to.

Hepatitis refers to a disease group that includes bacterial and viral infections and metabolically induced and chemical conditions. These illnesses cause the tissue of the liver to become inflamed. Alcohol and drug use are two ways in which the disease often spreads. There are several different types of hepatitis. Metabolic hepatitis includes alcoholic, toxic and drug-induced cases and viral hepatitis includes the three types b, c and d. It can be acute and last for a short time or become a chronic, long-term condition.

The Relationship between Addiction and Hepatitis

Hepatitis is an incredibly common side effect of intravenous drug use and alcohol abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that hepatitis C cases have risen rapidly since 2010 and attributes the steep escalation primarily to associated drug use.

  • Between 2009 and 2018, rates of acute hepatitis C in the US tripled, with the highest rates in people between the ages of 20–39 years old.
  • 72% of people with acute hepatitis C infection report injection drug use.
  • Between 10-35% of heavy drinkers will likely contract hepatitis at some point in their lives.

Hepatitis is a commonly overlooked concern of heavy drinkers and drug users, but it can have a lifelong impact on health and quality of life.

How Do I Know if I Have Hepatitis?

While some people with hepatitis are asymptomatic, there are certain common signs of infection, including abdominal pain, loss of appetite, chronic fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting and jaundice – yellowing of the eyes and skin – the most easily and commonly recognized symptoms. Others include, but are not limited to, pale or dark-colored stool, enlarged pancreas and liver and loss of weight. Due to the seriousness of this disease, a person who has been exposed to any form of the virus and/or is exhibiting symptoms should seek medical attention right away.

What’s the Difference between Acute and Chronic Hepatitis?

Acute hepatitis has three phases, beginning with the prodromal phase when flu-like symptoms occur. The following phase includes liver issues resulting in jaundice and dark urine and oftentimes an enlarged spleen and liver. The final phase is recovery, with most hepatitis b sufferers getting better in 3-4 months. However, over 80 percent of hepatitis c cases are long-lasting. Chronic hepatitis refers to cases that persist for more than 6 months and share many symptoms in common with the acute type. However, chronic hepatitis takes a longer time to develop. It severely affects long-term liver function and causes cirrhosis – serious damage and scarring of the liver – and can be life-threatening.

How Does Someone Get Hepatitis and How is it Related to Addiction?

There are different ways in which a person can become infected with hepatitis. Causes and symptoms vary depending on type.

Metabolic Hepatitis

Metabolic hepatitis includes several liver conditions not caught by infection, including types resulting from chemical exposure (especially that which takes place over an extended period of time). This is where addiction and hepatitis are most commonly linked. There are two types of metabolic hepatitis: toxic and drug-induced and alcoholic. Many substances commonly used contain chemicals that can cause toxic and drug-induced metabolic hepatitis. These include illegal drugs, prescription medications and inhalants. Damage to the liver occurs at varying speeds depending on type of exposure. Alcoholic hepatitis is responsible for causing most cases of liver cirrhosis in the United States. Around 10 to 20 percent of chronic alcoholics end up developing this disease.

Viral Hepatitis

Hepatitis B

In order to become infected with hepatitis b (HBV), one must be exposed to infected bodily fluids, including seminal, vaginal and blood. Intravenous drug use (sharing needles with others) and sexual activity are the most common ways it is contracted. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1.2 million people in the United States have HBV – a significant proportion include those who inject drugs. Most cases do not lead to long-term effects, with about one to five percent becoming chronic conditions.

Hepatitis C

This form of hepatitis is common in people who are injection drug users. Hepatitis c (HCV) spreads the same way as type b – through blood, vaginal and seminal fluids, sharing needles and sexual activity. It is among the top bloodborne diseases worldwide and affects as many as 3.9 million people in the United States. According to scientific research, 80 percent of people with HCV have a chronic form of infection. Medications are available that make the virus undetectable and eliminate symptoms successfully in the majority of patients regardless of length of infection.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D (HDV) – also called delta hepatitis – spreads in the same way as types b and c. This variation is different in that for someone to become infected; they must already have type b. However, HDV is not common in the United States and only a small fraction of people with hepatitis b become infected.

How Is Hepatitis Treated?

Metabolic

People with metabolic hepatitis should stop using all drugs and alcohol completely immediately upon diagnosis. Damage to the liver may be reversed with early intervention, but severe alcoholic hepatitis is difficult to treat, with approximately 20 to 50 percent of patients dying within four weeks. For this reason, it is important that someone seek medical attention while in the early phases of the disease.

Viral

Treatment for viral hepatitis varies depending on the type. Most of the time, treating hepatitis b (HBV) is unnecessary, but this is not the case for some people. Older patients and those with other medical conditions are at an increased risk of requiring hospitalization. This includes people with HIV/AIDS. Medication may be necessary to treat chronic, long-term HBV. Conversely, 80 percent of people with hepatitis c (HCV) do not improve with medical treatment. These patients are considered to have chronic HCV, a condition that can become permanent. In these instances, treatment involves preventative measures that reduce the likelihood of developing life-threatening complications. It usually includes medications (to prevent cirrhosis and other issues) and does not focus on curing the disease.

How Do I Get Help?

If you or a loved one has is struggling with addiction and hepatitis symptoms, it is critical to seek professional medical assistance immediately. At Recovery Unplugged, we have locations across the country equipped with doctors, nurses and other medical professionals experienced in treating addiction and associated health conditions within a medical setting. We use a holistic approach to treatment and are the leading provider of music-assisted therapy. We accept most private insurance carriers and offer financing options. Do not wait any longer. Reach out to us today to prevent additional and potentially fatal complications resulting from addiction.

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