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How to Navigate Disclosure, Denial and Drinking with Hepatitis B During the Holidays

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka

With the holidays come  family reunions and parties that can set the stage for some big emotional challenges for people living with hepatitis B.

  • Do we disclose our hepatitis B to our families or keep quiet?
  • Do we remind relatives to get tested and/or treated, or quietly endure their denial?
  • And, can we resist the host who insists everyone should be drinking alcohol with him?

Is this the holiday when we finally tell our parents or siblings about our hepatitis B?

First, take your family’s cultural temperature towards hepatitis B. Historically, in many cultures people with hepatitis B were shunned and could not marry, attend college or advance professionally. If your family still holds some of these baseless beliefs, be prepared to do some educating as you try to dispel their fears and prejudices. Come armed with printed information, website addresses and other material to bolster your family-focused public health campaign.

If you were infected at birth, you may have family members who are also infected. The most valuable gift you may give them is your disclosure and your education, especially if it leads them to get tested, vaccinated and treated.

If you suspect you are the only one in your family who is infected because of a past medical procedures that transmitted the infection, or sexual encounters or injecting drug use, think carefully about disclosing. Are your family members open and accepting? Will they suspend judgement and be supportive? Perhaps you should tell only one or two relatives whom you can trust, or stick to your community of friends. If you have doubts, erring on the side of caution for the time being may be best.

Should you encourage family members to get tested, vaccinated or treated?

If you know hepatitis B runs in your family, then your parents, uncles, aunts and siblings could also be infected. Should you bring up hepatitis B during dinner and encourage them to be treated?

Many people find denial a far more comfortable option than facing the possibility of having hepatitis B, which is why nearly two-thirds of people with chronic hepatitis B remain undiagnosed and untreated. So how do we bring up hepatitis B without sending everyone running from the dinner table?

  • Bring up an interesting fact, “Hey, did you hear that one in 12 Asian-Americans have hepatitis B and two in three don’t know it?”
  • Or ask about a relative’s health history. “I was wondering about grandpa in Vietnam, you said he died from liver problems, do you think it was hepatitis B?”
  • Or try breaking through the stereotypes surrounding hepatitis B. “Everyone thinks you get hepatitis B because you’re promiscuous or do drugs, but actually most Asian-Americans got it at birth.”

Choose a time when there won’t be many distractions. Try talking to a few relatives ahead of time so they are prepared to be supportive when you broach the topic with your family.

Ultimately, we can’t change other people. Our relatives may simply continue to refuse testing and treatment despite our best intentions. We don’t have to let them off the hook completely, but we must accept they are doing the best they can. If we keep our relationships with them open and cordial, they may be willing to talk to us in the future when they are ready to get tested. To view a video of a daughter telling her parents why they should be tested, click here.

How do you politely refuse the host who insists that you drink?

Practice saying no: Often there are people at a party or event who take it as a personal insult if you do not join them and drink alcohol. You need to prepare for their rudeness and be ready to firmly say no. This can take practice, so do some role-playing if needed ahead of time. It gets easier with time.

Prepare a reason for not drinking: Sometimes, those annoying hosts, friends or relatives just won’t give up, so you may have to lie. “Sorry I’m taking medication and I can’t drink.” Or, “My stomach is upset and I want to be able to enjoy all this food.” You never have to disclose your hepatitis B infection in this casual social setting, but you can come up with another reason not to drink.

Leave the event early if you feel uncomfortable. Over the course of a party, people may get more intoxicated and it might get harder to turn down drinks. Consider leaving the party before people reach this stage, besides it’s no fun to be at a party with drunk people when you’re sober anyway.

Find others who are not drinking. Search out people who are not drinking at the event. Those are the people you may want to talk to and enjoy.

Choose a non-alcohol drink: If you’re at a bar or party, no one will know that your seltzer water with a slice of lime is not a gin and tonic. Many bars now serve non-alcoholic beverages so no one will know your drink does not contain alcohol.

The most important thing to do is to not pick up a drink no matter what. One drink all too easily leads to another. Your liver will thank you.

Fun, Fireworks, and Alcohol Consumption Over the 4th of July Holiday

Are you gearing up for the 4th of July, holiday?  Planning on a couple of days of fun, sun, fireworks, and holiday picnics and parties?  If you’re living with hepatitis B, you will want to be sure to abstain, or at a minimum, keep your alcohol consumption extremely restricted.  Some of the statistics out there linking alcohol consumption to liver disease are sobering (no pun intended), even for those that do not suffer from liver disease due to viral hepatitis.  If you have HBV, drinking just doesn’t mix with love N’ your liver.

So just how much alcohol is too much?  Like everything else, alcohol tolerances vary with the individual, so the amount will vary.  Some people, with or without HBV, may be more prone to liver disease due to contributing factors such as fatty liver disease, hemochromatosis, autoimmune hepatitis,  or hepatoxicity – exposure to certain drugs or environmental and chemical toxins causing liver scarring .   Remember that the liver is basically a very quiet, essential, non-complaining organ.

If you have HBV, you know your tolerance for alcohol is going to be nil.  Drinking will contribute to liver disease.

For healthy women who do not have hep B, 20 grams of alcohol, per day and for men without HBV,  60 grams of alcohol per day is risky business and may very well contribute to liver disease.  This equates to 60 ml. of sixty-proof liquor, or 200 ml. of wine (12% alcohol), and 500 ml of beer (5% alcohol).  A visual always works best for me:

Ouch… Even if you do not have HBV, you are risking your liver health when you drink casually, on a daily basis.  For women, this basically equates to one mixed drink, glass of wine or beer per day, while the limit for men may be three alcoholic drinks per day.

If you’ve got HBV, perhaps it’s time to eliminate alcohol from the party scene and replace it with a thirst-quenching, non-alcoholic beverage.  If not, you might consider one drink for the holiday weekend, and abstain for very l-o-n-g periods of time without alcohol.  Consider one glass of wine, occasionally, the new “binge drinking” level if you wish to best maintain your liver health.  Let’s face it:  abstinence is best if you’re really looking to limit the damage done to your liver.  There are so many toxins that our liver silently removes on a daily basis.  This is one toxin we can choose to control, and eliminate from our environment.

So, light up the sky with fireworks.  Eat your favorite, healthy foods this weekend, and make a commitment, starting this weekend, to remove alcohol from your life, and love your liver.