If you have the hepatitis C (hep C) virus, you probably have questions about whether or not you can still drink alcohol. Though there is not a definitive scientific answer, the best evidence suggests that you are better off drinking no alcohol at all. Hep C online communities and current medical literature routinely address questions of whether continuing to drink any alcohol can impair effectiveness of the viral treatment of hepatitis, and increase the likelihood of developing liver disease.1-4
How alcohol affects the liver
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) This virus causes inflammation to the liver, an important organ the removes toxins from the body.5
Liver function is affected when you have hepatitis. Without treatment, this infection can lead to liver disease. Drinking alcohol can speed up development of the disease and reduce the effectiveness of treatment for hepatitis.6,7
How alcohol affects treatment
Hep C is a virus that can not only be treated, but also cured.1,8 Antiviral therapy is used to treat hepatitis infections.1,5,7 There are new hepatitis drugs on the market that have high cure rates. Physicians prescribe the drugs that are the best match for each individual’s particular type of hepatitis.1
Many doctors won’t start antiviral treatment if their patients are still drinking.1 They believe consuming any alcohol risks further liver damage, despite treatment. Some doctors may disagree as to whether it is safe to ever have a drink, especially when it comes to patients with a history of alcohol abuse. Further, it is a myth that beer or wine is considered less harmful than hard liquors (such as vodka and whiskey). All forms of alcohol are potentially damaging to the liver.3,6
Your doctor will continue to send you for lab work while treating hepatitis. If test results are virus free after 3 months, the treatment will be considered successful, or “cured”.2 However, being cured doesn’t mean it is OK to resume drinking. Even after hep C and treatment, liver disease may already be present, and any alcohol may continue to make that condition worse. Always talk to your doctor to get recommendations based on your own personal health status and medical condition.
Considerations for patients with alcohol dependence
People who abuse alcohol (“alcoholics”) are more likely to develop hepatitis C infections that are harder to control. Alcohol abuse should be treated as its own disease.7,9 Ongoing support from Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs or self-help support groups can play an important role in staying sober.
Important things to remember
Here are some important recommendations that your doctor may make about hep C, treatment, and alcohol.2,3,7 As always, ask your doctor what’s best for you.
Don’t drink if you have an active hepatitis C infection
Don’t drink if you are receiving interferon treatment for hepatitis or cancer
Don’t drink if you have cirrhosis
Don’t drink if you are on the liver transplant list
Take good care of yourself
Here are some tips for taking care of yourself:1,5
Take medications as prescribed
Keep regularly scheduled appointments with doctors and dentists
Theobald, M. How Alcohol Plus Hepatitis C Accelerates Liver Damage. Available at: https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/alcohol-hepatitis-c-accelerate-liver-disease/. Accessed 2.14.14.
Alcohol and Hepatitis C. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/alcoholand-hepatitis-c. Accessed 2.15.19
Viral Hepatitis. Available at: https://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/faqs/drinking-alcohol.asp. Accessed 2.15.19.
Bhattacharya, R., Shuhart, M., Hepatitis C and Alcohol: Interactions, Outcomes, and Implications. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/jcge/Abstract/2003/03000/Hepatitis_C_and_Alcohol__Interactions,_Outcomes,.12.aspx. Accessed 2.15.19.
Dangerous Cocktail: Alcohol & Hepatitis C. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-and-hepatitis-c#takeaway. Accessed 2.9.14.
Pierce, J. Alcohol and Hepatitis C. Available at: https://hepatitisc.net/living/alcohol-hepatitis-c/. Accessed 2.15.19.
Alcohol and Hepatitis C. Available at: https://hepatitisc.net/living-with-hep-c/alcohol/. Accessed 2.15.19.
Bossley, K. To Drink or Not to Drink? That Is the Question. Available at: https://hepatitisc.net/living/questions-about-drinking/. Accessed 2.15.19
Peters, M, Terrault, N. Alcohol use and hepatitis C. Available at: https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1053/jhep.2002.36811. Accessed 2.15.19.