Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver tissue. The condition has five major viral varieties including various metabolic forms. Drug and substance abuse in particular alcoholism is closely linked with hepatitis. In fact, drug abuse and excessive drinking of alcohol can be responsible for the development and spread of the condition. Most commonly, three forms of viral hepatitis are associated with alcohol and drug abuse: Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis D.
Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV) – both are contracted through contact with infected body fluids including blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. The most common methods by which HBV and HCV spreads – is through unprotected sexual contact and needle sharing.
Hepatitis D (HDV or delta hepatitis) spreads in the same manner as HBV and HCV. However, HDV is a defective virus that can only spread in people who are already infected with HBV. HDV is very rare, occurring only in a small percentage of HBV sufferers.
Relationship between drug abuse and viral hepatitis
Drug and substance abuse places people at particular risk for contracting viral hepatitis. Engaging in risky behaviours that often accompanies drug abuse increases the risk of contracting HBV and, less frequently, HCV.
People who inject drugs are at high risk for contracting HBV and HCV from shared needles and other drug preparation equipment, which exposes them to bodily fluids from other infected people. Because drug abuse often impairs judgement, people who inject drugs repeatedly engage in these unsafe behaviours, which can increase their risk of contracting viral hepatitis.
As per research studies, each person who injects drugs infected with HCV is likely to infect about twenty others, and that this rapid transmission of the disease occurs within the first three years of initial infection.
Moreover, drug and alcohol abuse can also directly damage the liver, increasing risk for chronic liver disease and cancer among those infected with hepatitis. This shows that early detection and treatment of hepatitis infections in people, who inject drugs and engage in heavy alcohol consumption, is crucial to protect both the health of the person and that of the community.
Moreover, people with hepatitis who inject drugs often have several other health conditions at the same time, including mental illness and HIV/AIDS, thus requiring care from multiple health care providers.
Substance use disorder treatment is critical for drug abusers, as it can reduce risky behaviours that increase the chance of transmitting hepatitis. Research studies have shown that patients with hepatitis receiving medication-assisted treatment for their substance addiction can be safely treated with antiviral medications.
• Not abusing drugs: This decreases the chance of engaging in unsafe behaviour, such as sharing drug-use equipment and having unprotected sex, which can lead to these infections.
• Getting tested and treated for viral infection: People who inject drugs should get tested for HIV, HBV, and HCV. Those who are infected may look and feel fine for years and may not even be aware of the infection. So, testing is needed to help prevent the spread of disease.
Getting treatment if needed
• Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV: PrEP is when people who are at significant risk for contracting HIV take a daily dose of HIV medications to prevent them from getting the infection. Research studies have shown that PrEP has been effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection in people who inject drugs.
• Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for HIV: PEP is when people take antiretroviral medicines to prevent becoming infected after being potentially exposed to HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PEP should be used within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure and only be used in emergency situations.
• Getting vaccinated for HBV: If one lives in the same household, has sexual contact with or shares needles with a person with HBV, then it is recommended that one should get vaccinated to prevent transmission.
• Getting treatment for substance use disorder: Attending a treatment centre will likely improve the likelihood of successful recovery from substance use, especially in the short term, and could therefore improve the chances that the individual recovers from hepatitis.