With Hep C, Alcohol is a No Go

Hepatitis C infections can increase risks of dying from liver disease linked to alcohol consumption

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) For healthy people, a drink or two can be okay. But for people with hepatitis C liver infections, a drink or two a day might be very dangerous.

A recent study looked at the drinking habits of a group of people with hepatitis C liver infections.

The results of the study showed that, even after only two drinks per day, people with hepatitis C have seven times the risk of dying from liver disease than people without the infection.

"Avoid alcohol if you have Hep C."

Zobair Younossi, MD, from the Center for Liver Diseases at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, VA, led an investigation into the health risks of drinking alcohol for people with hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is a virus that infects and inflames the liver. The virus spreads between people through blood to blood contact and is often passed through needle sharing. As blood passes through the liver, it is filtered and then processed in more than 500 different ways.

When the liver is inflamed from a hepatitis C infection, all of the vital functions that the liver performs can be compromised. A hepatitis C infection can increase the risk for developing liver disease, liver scarring and liver cancer, according to the study's authors.

Since people with hepatitis C have infected livers, drinking alcohol, which has to be filtered by the liver, may be more dangerous for them than for people without hepatitis C infections.

For the study, researchers looked at the records of 8,985 people, many after they had died, who had been included in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III).

A total of 218 participants in the NHANES study had the hepatitis C virus. Participants with hepatitis C were followed for an average of 13 years while those without the virus were followed for an average of 15 years.

The researchers assessed participants' drinking habits. One unit of alcohol was defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of liquor.

Moderate drinking was defined as any drinking, up to two drinks per day. Excessive drinking was defined as two or more drinks per day. Heavy drinking was considered three or more drinks per day. 

The results of the study showed that people with hepatitis C who had been drinkers, but had quit, had more than double the risk of dying compared to people without the virus.

Moderate drinkers with hepatitis C also had more than double the risk of dying compared to moderate drinkers without the virus.

Excessive drinkers with hepatitis C had more than seven times the risk of dying compared to excessive drinkers without the virus.

Heavy drinkers with hepatitis C had more than three and a half times the risk of dying compared to heavy drinkers without the virus.

“It is important to note that for individuals with chronic hepatitis C, liver disease was the top cause of death, accounting for 20 percent of all deaths,” the authors said.

One limitation of the study was that binge drinking was not taken into account. Binge drinking is considered four drinks or more in one sitting for women and five drinks or more in one sitting for men.

The authors noted their main limitation was the small size of the group they studied.

“Although chronic hepatitis C is associated with increased risks for overall and liver-related mortality (death), these risks are even higher for patients consuming moderate and excessive amounts of alcohol, “ the authors concluded.

The authors recommended that healthcare providers for hepatitis C patients promote staying away from alcohol altogether.

This study will be published in the April issue of Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. No outside funding sources were used for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 19, 2013
Last Updated:
March 21, 2013