Hepatitis C: An In-Depth Guide

 

Safer drug and alcohol use during hepatitis C treatment

Key points

  • Active drug use is not considered a valid reason to deny treatment to anyone. Treatments work just as well to cure hepatitis C if a person is using drugs.
  • Some people manage hepatitis C treatment while they are using drugs or alcohol. For others, stopping or cutting down has helped them prepare for and complete treatment.
  • Education on harm reduction strategies and access to harm reduction resources is important.
  • Education on overdose prevention and using naloxone is also important – hepatitis C treatment can change the effects of drugs, which can contribute to an overdose. 

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.

Resources for service providers

Resources for clients

Revised 2018.

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