Alcohol and Hepatitis C
Last updated: June 2020
Does having hepatitis C mean I can never have another beer/glass of wine/champagne toast?
It is easy to understand why a person with a hepatitis C diagnosis would wonder how alcohol will affect their condition. Not only is alcohol included in so many of life’s big moments (celebrations, weddings, watching sports, etc.), but the research about alcohol is often quite mixed. Some of the information out there tells us that a person doing any amount of drinking is a bad idea, while other sources say that the body can tolerate small amounts of alcohol on an infrequent basis. Other resources discuss the belief that certain types of alcohol (such as red wine) can have positive effects on the human body. But which of these perspectives is most accurate, and do they hold true for someone who has hepatitis C?
The truth is that there is no clear answer other than a person who is living with hepatitis C (hep C) has an increased risk of liver issues and complications. As a result, answering questions about whether any alcohol consumption is safe and, if so, how to determine the line between how much is safe and how much is unsafe can be very confusing. The internet provides hundreds of thousands of websites discussing the topic, some from professionals, and some from people’s personal blogs and stories.
Since the risks of causing problems for your body are much higher than the short term feelings of enjoyment from alcohol consumption, it is wisest to try to avoid alcohol consumption altogether. Anyone who is unable to do so or who feels an incredible sense of stress or anxiety about not being able to consume alcohol might want to speak with their doctor or a licensed care provider about their options, as this may also be a sign of an alcohol addiction concern.
Is alcohol consumption bad for someone with hepatitis C?
A person might question whether the consumption of alcohol for a body that has been diagnosed as having hepatitis C is truly dangerous, or if limiting alcohol consumption is simply another thing suggested on a long list of recommendations from doctors. However, research shows that alcohol and hep C make quite a poor pairing.
In recent studies, alcohol has been shown to parallel high hepatitis C viral loads. This is because of an increase in a specific protein in the alcohol, which can cause the virus to replicate. That same protein also impacts hepatic inflammation. Simply put, someone with a very low hep C viral load can increase that load and can further stress an already overworked liver just by consuming alcohol in any dosage.
In addition, the molecules in alcohol actually interfere with the medications most people take to combat their hepatitis C infection. This means that drinking can cause your medication(s) to be less effective or even ineffective. Although you may read stories online and in people’s personal blogs about how they did not feel as if alcohol use has impacted their bodies, and although you may read that a glass of red wine a day can benefit some people, for someone with hepatitis C, alcohol, on a molecular level, interacts poorly with the way your body and your medication are battling your hepatitis C infection.
What if I decide to keep drinking?
People with a hepatitis C diagnosis may decide that they are already altering their lives enough by taking their medications and having an increased frequency of doctor’s visits. That alone can lead to feelings of anger about their diagnosis and/or a decision not to change some of their behaviors, including those related to alcohol.
It is impossible to know where anybody’s personal line is between how much alcohol is risky and how much is guaranteed to be harmful. There is no way to know if your body will seem fine after 8 oz. or become symptomatic after 8.5 oz. of alcohol. That is why the recommendation is to abstain completely. For those who do not, they may begin to recognize symptoms of jaundice or feelings of general poor health. Some discover these symptoms within hours or days of consuming any amount of alcohol. Others may not see any obvious symptoms at all.
Either way, you should also not assume that your body is properly processing alcohol if you do not see symptoms. The symptoms may simply not be noticeable. During future visits with doctors, your viral load may show an increase, and your liver function tests may show a decrease in function. As your liver becomes unhealthy, due to the consumption of alcohol, other necessary bodily functions can be impacted. For example, one of the liver’s primary functions is to break down the foods you eat and turn those nutrients into energy. If your liver is unable to do this, you may feel run down or generally tired. Your liver also acts in tandem with your kidneys to remove toxins and create proteins that your body needs to fight infections and illnesses. If your liver is unable to do this, you may become easily ill and/or it might take your body longer to fight off even small ailments, such as the common cold or the flu.
Deciding What’s Best for You
When deciding whether or not to drink alcohol, think about the symptoms you had that led to your doctor prescribing medication (or the symptoms your doctor wants to avoid you having to experience), and then compare that result to possible outcomes of consuming alcohol.
Most importantly, it’s your body and your risk. For some, it seems as if the risk of consuming alcohol is small, especially if the drinking is only occasionally. Even so, scientific research shows that your best bet to staying as healthy as possible and effectively managing your hepatitis C is to abstain from alcohol.