Hepatitis C and Alcohol

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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When it comes to your liver, hepatitis C and alcohol are a double whammy. That's a big problem because your liver is one of the most important organs in your body. The hepatitis C virus attacks the liver. Drinking alcohol increases the amount of damage that's done. Over time, hepatitis C can cause scar tissue to develop in the liver. Alcohol speeds up this process, too.

So, if you drink, the damage being done to your liver is not only worse, but it happens much faster.

How Alcohol and Hepatitis C Affect the Liver

Alcohol is toxic to the liver. This is true for all people, even those who don't have hepatitis C. But, if you do have the virus, the damage from alcohol is even greater. Learning what your liver does can help you understand why.

Your liver has many jobs. First, it works as a metabolic factory. The liver takes certain substances in your bloodstream, like sugars and proteins, and turns them into other things your body needs. The liver stores essential nutrients and releases them when your body needs them.

The liver also acts like a filter. Blood passes through the liver. As this happens, it breaks down alcohol and other harmful chemicals and cleans your blood.

However, if you have hepatitis C, your liver can't do these jobs as well. The virus makes it hard for the liver to break down alcohol. This means the toxins in alcohol are not completely removed from your body.

Normally, the liver can repair itself if it's damaged by infection or injury. But if it's constantly under attack from a virus, drugs or alcohol, scar tissue can develop, replacing healthy liver tissue. This damage is more difficult to repair. Over time, this can lead to severe permanent scarring of the liver. That's a serious health condition called cirrhosis.

The bottom line: Both hepatitis C and alcohol damage the liver. If you have this viral infection and you drink alcohol, your chances of developing cirrhosis are much greater.

Alcohol Can Also Affect Hepatitis C Treatment

If you are infected with the Hepatitis C virus, the more you drink each week, the more hepatitis C virus accumulates in the liver. That's because heavy drinking weakens your immune system. This means that alcohol makes your body less able to fight off the virus—increasing the viral burden.

If your liver is working overtime to get rid of alcohol, the virus has more chances to cause damage.

Alcohol can also make your hepatitis C treatment less effective. What's more, drinking can worsen the side effects of your medication.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

The more you drink, the worse the damage gets and the faster it happens. There's no "safe" level of alcohol for people with hepatitis C. The best thing you can do is avoid alcohol entirely.

People with hepatitis C who do not drink are much less likely to develop severe liver disease. This is true even up to 40 years after being infected with the virus. On the flip side, after 40 years of hepatitis C infection, most heavy drinkers have cirrhosis.

If you do drink, limit how much you have. If you have more than two alcoholic drinks daily or drink on most days of the week, take steps to cut back.

Tips for Cutting Back on Alcohol

Changing your drinking habits may not be easy. This could take time, so don't give up. The following ideas will help you limit how much alcohol you drink:

  • Don't keep a lot of alcohol in your home. Or, get rid of it altogether.
  • Drink slowly. It's also a good idea to have a non-alcoholic beverage between alcoholic drinks.
  • Eat before you drink alcohol.
  • Don't drink just because others are drinking.
  • Find alternatives. Use the money you would have spent on alcohol to do something fun with your family or friends.
  • Remind yourself why you are trying to avoid alcohol.

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol and hepatitis C both harm your liver, with alcohol worsening and speeding up damage done by the virus.
  • Drinking makes your hepatitis C treatment less effective. It also makes side effects from your medication worse.
  • There's no safe amount of alcohol when you have hepatitis C. Take steps to stop drinking.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 16
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  2. Tips to try. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/Thinking-about-a-change/strategies-for-cutting-down/Tips-To-Try.aspx
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