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Hepatitis and Drug Misuse

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There is a strong correlation between the debilitating and potentially deadly disease hepatitis and drug misuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says:

People who engage in drug use or high-risk behaviors associated with drug use put themselves at risk for contracting or transmitting viral infections such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.

What types of hepatitis are prevalent among people who use IV-drugs? What are the health dangers related to hepatitis? How can you know if you have hepatitis?

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Correlation Between Hepatitis and Drug Use

The HIV/AIDS epidemic shed light on how sharing fluids can transmit viruses between two people. Today we know viruses can be spread through bodily fluids and blood. So, when people share drug equipment or become impaired enough to make poor decisions such as unprotected sex, illnesses such as hepatitis and HIV can be transmitted.


Sharing a heroin needle, for example, can expose a person to a host of chronic illnesses that only add to the dangers of substance use. What is hepatitis and why should those who use drugs be concerned about the spread of this disease?

What is Hepatitis?

NIDA defines hepatitis as a painful swelling of the liver. Five types of viruses within a dangerous family can spread hepatitis when people share needles. The most common types are hepatitis A, B and C.

While the other types of hepatitis viruses can be spread by casual contact with an infected person, the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, is transmitted through the blood, most often by sharing infected needles during drug misuse. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) fact sheet on HCV points out there is no vaccine to prevent or treat this disease. The CDC says there were 2,967 cases of acute HCV in 2016. This number is likely low since most people infected are carriers of the disease for years before it manifests itself.

Hepatitis is very dangerous and can kill, sometimes faster than drug misuse. It is a major risk factor for cancer in the United States. Like substance use disorders, hepatitis cannot really be cured, just made more manageable with the use of medications and lifestyle changes.

If hepatitis is left untreated, it can lead to cirrhosis, which is a progressive deterioration of the liver.

Some of the symptoms of hepatitis include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Little or no appetite
  • Pain in the belly
  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • A mild fever

Once the disease becomes chronic, it can go underground. Once the disease manifests, it is a clear sign the liver is damaged beyond repair.

The NIDA says the statistics on hepatitis are alarming; more than five million people are currently living with some form of hepatitis. Since 2012, there have been more deaths from hepatitis C, one of the four viruses in the family of the disease, than all 60 other infectious diseases that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tracks.

Addiction Treatment Programs

Drug misuse is a widespread problem and the complications of sharing needles only add to the dangers. Fortunately, the professionals found in addiction treatment programs are trained to handle substance use disorder along with other complicating factors such as hepatitis.

To find out more about how to start a journey away from drug misuse and toward wellness of mind and body, contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield today.