Hepatitis C: An In-Depth Guide

Safer drug and alcohol use during Hep C treatment

People often ask, “Can I use drugs or alcohol while I’m on Hep C treatment?” The answer to the question isn’t simple and can depend on how people are using these substances.

Some people can manage Hep C treatment while they are using drugs or alcohol. For some other people, stopping or cutting down has helped them prepare for and complete treatment.

Everyone’s situation is different and treatment can still be possible while people are using drugs or alcohol.

Working with a healthcare provider

Some healthcare providers do not want to treat people with Hep C who are using drugs. In the Canadian hepatitis C treatment guidelines, active drug use is not considered a valid reason to deny treatment to someone.

Some of the reasons that healthcare providers may not want to treat a person who uses drugs is a fear that the person will get re-infected or will find it hard to stick to the treatment routine. They also may be concerned that the drugs will interact with Hep C medications.

Street drugs and Hep C treatment

People who use street drugs have the right to be offered hepatitis C treatment. It is possible for people who use drugs to take treatment and be cured of hepatitis C. There’s not a lot of information about how street drugs (such as heroin, crack, crystal meth or speed) affect the liver or how Hep C medications and street drugs interact with each other.

Avoiding an overdose

To reduce the chance of an overdose, it is a good idea to use a smaller amount of street drugs during Hep C treatment and see how that feels. A smaller hit may have the same effect during treatment that a full hit used to have.

Getting naloxone training, if it is available, and using with a trusted person can also help prevent an overdose.

Alcohol

Hep C treatment has a better chance of working if a person can cut back on or stop drinking alcohol. Alcohol can also make it more difficult to follow the treatment routine. Harm reduction strategies that may be helpful are:

  • Setting a drinking goal and trying to stick to it.
  • Spacing out alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks such as water, juice or pop.
  • Switching to smaller drinks or drinks with lower alcohol content (a 3% beer instead of 5%, for example).
  • Watering down hard alcohol by mixing it with juice, soda pop or water.
  • Seeking support through a support group, addiction treatment or counselling.

Revised 2018.