Society may often stigmatize hepatitis C infections from the hepatitis C virus because of the context of drug misuse and addiction that links them. This can place a lot of emotional stress on people living with hepatitis C and a substance use disorder.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that the rate of acute hepatitis C infections in the United States more than doubled between 2012 and 2019. According to the CDC, the rates run parallel with the country’s opioid situation, and injection drug use accounts for more than two-thirds of new hepatitis C cases.

The stigma associated with substance use can be a strong deterrent to getting care for drug dependence and other medical issues, like hepatitis C infections. However, a small 2015 study suggested that communities and social networks can help people with substance use disorder reclaim their places in society.

As hepatitis C treatments can last months and often have side effects, whether you have social support or not can make a difference. A 2011 study found that a lack of social support during antiviral treatment for hepatitis C was associated with higher symptoms of:

  • fatigue
  • aches and pains
  • irritability
  • other symptoms and side effects

Social support might help people cope better with side effects and lead to better results. It also may protect people from depression, which, in turn, could positively affect treatment outcomes. Getting social support can be crucial during your treatment and recovery process If you are:

  • living with a hepatitis C infection
  • recovering from substance use disorder
  • trying to overcome social stigma

In fact, it can be incredibly helpful to be able to share experiences with others who understand exactly what you’re going through.

When treatment for hepatitis C and substance use disorder occurs in a group setting, it provides a kind of social support that can benefit people undergoing treatment.

A 2012 study evaluated the effect of group treatment on people with hepatitis C and opioid dependence. While undergoing hepatitis C treatment with their peers and group mentors, in group therapy sessions, people receiving treatment discussed their:

  • side effects
  • hepatitis C facts
  • social stigmas
  • experiences

The study authors found that group therapy provides positive social support, which may result in greater treatment retention and better overall outcomes for people enrolled in a drug treatment program.

Ask your doctor or clinic if they know about any local support groups for people with hepatitis C and substance use disorder. Substance use disorder treatment centers may also be able to refer you to a local support group. Social support for both hepatitis C and drug addiction is available through:

  • online forums
  • social media
  • phone calls
  • in-person meetings

The following groups and organizations can point you in the right direction to get the support you need.

Support for hepatitis C

Support for substance use disorder

Social media

Hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. But there are treatments available that can cure the condition. These treatments consist of taking oral antiviral medications for 8 weeks to 6 months, depending on the medication. These newer drugs can cure the hepatitis C infection in more than 95 percent of people.

The newer medications for hepatitis C have fewer side effects than older options. Side effects can include:

  • fatigue
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • rash
  • mood changes
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite

The side effects above may be harder to manage if you go through recovery for a substance use disorder at the same time, but it’s important to stick with your treatment plan.

Hepatitis C treatment as a catalyst to substance misuse recovery

Researchers conducted a 2020 study with people who used injectable opioids or stimulants in the past and completed antiviral treatment for hepatitis C. The objective was to examine the impact of hepatitis C treatment on people who inject drugs.

The study showed the following when a total of 124 participants completed the online questionnaire and hepatitis C treatment:

  • One group of 79 percent reported improvements in their outlooks for the future.
  • Another group of 73 percent had improved self-esteem.
  • Lastly, 69 percent of them indicated a better ability to plan for their futures.

Medical treatment is available for substance use disorders, and these programs can be highly individualized to your needs. Treatment can also address your mental health and provide frequent follow-ups.

Many types of professionals work together to develop treatment plans for substance use disorder treatment programs. The professionals include:

  • counselors
  • social workers
  • doctors
  • nurses
  • psychologists
  • psychiatrists
  • other professionals

You may need to undergo a medically-supervised withdrawal, sometimes called a detox, followed by one of three treatment types:

  • inpatient
  • residential
  • outpatient

Residential treatment programs often best suit people who don’t have a stable living situation or little family support.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than half of the people with a hepatitis infection are unaware they carry the virus and don’t receive treatment until the infection advances. So, you may want to consider getting tested for infectious diseases while in treatment for a substance use disorder.

If you learn about your hepatitis C infection while in a treatment center for substance use disorder, it can be difficult to fully process treatment options and the recovery process. The staff at your treatment facility can help you make an informed decision about starting treatment.

If you’re recovering from substance use disorder, and you have a hepatitis C diagnosis, curing hepatitis C with antivirals may provide an opportunity to reidentify yourself.

Integration into the community and the social network may be a crucial part of recovery from substance use disorders and can help improve outcomes in treating hepatitis C. This is why social support can make a world of a difference in your recovery from both substance use disorder and hepatitis C.