Hep B Blog

Understanding the Impact of Drinking Alcohol on Liver Health











April is Alcohol Awareness Month!  

Hepatitis B is a virus that can damage the liver. The liver is a critical organ in the human body and is responsible for energizing cells, removing toxins and waste, and strengthening the immune system. It is most commonly understood as the body’s primary filtering system and storage unit. Alcohol consumption has been shown to cause serious problems for the liver as it overwhelms the liver’s ability to carry out important tasks. 

Important Functions of the Liver: 

Bile Production: Bile is a greenish liquid released from the liver and into the gallbladder (a small sac located under the liver which stores bile) that helps to break down fats so they can be used by the body. The liver produces and cleans bile so that it can move through the small intestine. Bile also helps to remove some toxins and waste products such as excess cholesterol (a type of fat necessary for digestion and healthy cells) and bilirubin (a yellow substance made from old red blood cells) to keep your immune system healthy and clean. Even though cholesterol is an important substance, excess amounts of cholesterol can clog the bloodstream and cause serious problems like heart disease. This is why the liver removes unwanted cholesterol from the body. Similarly, bilirubin is made during the production of bile and is a waste product of old and broken-down red blood cells. A healthy liver can filter out and remove bilirubin from the body. High amounts of bilirubin may indicate damage to the liver or serious liver disease. 

Natural Detoxification: The liver is most notably known for its natural detox system, which is one of its most important functions. The liver removes toxins, foreign substances, and harmful waste from the bloodstream such as alcohol, drugs, and other chemicals through different ways. Depending on the substance, it may remove the toxin through bile, break it down into safer substances so the toxins don’t cause harm. The liver can even store the toxins, so the rest of the body is safe. It is important to understand that, even though the liver has a remarkable filtering system, it has limits and should not be put under excess stress.  

Blood Glucose Regulation: Glucose is a sugar molecule and the most important source of energy for your body. Glucose enters the body through foods high in carbohydrates, such as grains, potatoes and fruits. During the digestive process, glucose molecules from foods are broken down and used by the body to energize cells and maintain the most basic yet critical functions of the immune system. Glucose turns into blood glucose or blood sugar when it travels through the bloodstream. For glucose to be used as energy by the cells, it needs assistance from insulin (a hormone released by the pancreas), which helps it move around and get to the cells. Think of insulin as the key and glucose as the lock. The key opens the lock to the door. Similarly, insulin opens the door so that glucose can get inside the cells and provide energy. High levels of blood glucose and the inability to produce or use insulin properly can result in diabetes. Even though glucose comes from food, the human body can use the liver to produce its own glucose. The liver is basically the storage unit for glucose, saving it for use at a later time in the form of glycogen. Glycogen or stored glucose is released on an “as needed basis.” When the body is running low on glucose, the liver uses fats to provide energy and saves the remainder of the glucose for the most important organs that need sugar for energy, such as the brain and kidneys.  

Alcohol Consumption and the Liver: 

Alcohol is a toxic substance and is known to cause a powerful effect on the brain’s ability to understand and process information because the brain is a very sensitive organ. This is why alcohol can be so addictive for some people. It causes chemical effects (excess release of dopamine, a hormone that makes you feel good) in the brain, which can lead to addiction. Increased intake of alcohol is also linked to several health issues such as cancer, heart disease, digestive problems and liver disease. Alcohol use is also associated with injuries such as fatal car crashes and alcohol overdose.  

Since the liver is the body’s natural detox system, alcohol consumption disrupts the liver from carrying out its most important tasks. For example, the liver’s role is to remove alcohol from the blood. Breaking down ethanol (found in alcohol) causes some liver cells to die. The liver is able to make new cells but too much alcohol or long-term use can reduce the ability to make repairs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women to be excessive alcohol use. Drinking too much inflames the liver and disrupts its filtering system. Damaged and weakened liver cells are unable to remove the toxins from alcohol from the blood. When liver cells are destroyed, they are unable to carry out the other important tasks such as producing bile, making proteins and storing glucose.  

The most common type of alcohol related disease is fatty liver. This is when excess amounts of fat are found in the liver. This causes the liver to swell, and overtime may cause inflammation or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Any damage to the liver cells, whether it’s through swelling, inflammation, or scarring, disrupts the liver’s ability to carry out its most essential functions. Cirrhosis or scarring of the liver is the most dangerous thing that can happen to the liver. It means that healthy liver tissue and cells are now being replaced by scar tissue from liver damage. The symptoms of liver damage from alcohol use may consist of fever, vomiting, nausea, jaundice, abdominal pain, fatigue and loss of appetite. This process is not sudden and usually takes a long time to happen. However, symptoms and signs may not always be present.  

What People Living with Hepatitis B Should Know About Drinking Alcohol? 

People living with hepatitis B should know that the liver is already weakened by the virus. The hepatitis B virus attacks the healthy liver cells and tissue and causes inflammation. Alcohol use can result in more problems and can put greater stress on the liver. It can speed up the harm to the liver, resulting in serious liver disease. It can lower the body’s ability to defend itself from foreign invaders, such as other viruses and bacteria. Studies have shown that alcohol intake can result in rapid HBV replication, further increasing the risk of cirrhosis and liver disease.  

Love your Liver! 

In a recently published statement by the World Health Organization, it was found that “no amount of alcohol is safe when it comes to health.” It is important to understand that alcohol, whether little or much, is a toxin and puts the liver at the highest risk as the liver is the natural detox for unwanted and harmful substances. The liver does a lot to keep our bodies protected from harm and acts as a natural defense. But, like people, the liver can also experience burnout. It is very important to keep our liver healthy, safe, and away from harm! 











Hepatitis B and Injection Drug Use: Risks, Barriers to Care, and Prevention Strategies










Hepatitis B is a liver infection which is caused by the hepatitis B Virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is transmitted from person to person through blood, semen, or other bodily fluids. You can learn more about the ways hepatitis B is spread here. People who inject drugs (PWID) are at high risk for contracting the virus due to the sharing of needles and low  awareness and education about hepatitis B.

HBV Prevalence among PWID Communities

People who inject drugs (PWID) are at high risk for hepatitis B virus infection due to various factors, including sharing injection equipment and lack of awareness about hepatitis B transmission. Using unclean needles to inject drugs can result in the exchange of blood. This increases a person’s risk of being exposed to the virus. Hepatitis B prevalence among PWID is much higher than in the general population. Chronic HBV infection has been identified in 3.5% to 20.0% of PWID in a variety of settings, and 22.6% of PWID have evidence of past infection (Haber & Schillie, 2021). Drug injection is the most common risk for persons ages 18-40 years old with hepatitis B virus. 

Barriers to Care for PWID Communities

Access to treatment can be a significant barrier for PWID, who may face stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings. To find out if someone has hepatitis B it is recommended that a triple panel hepatitis B test be run (which includes HBsAg, HBcAb and HBsAb). These tests will help identify people with hepatitis B, a previous exposure to hepatitis B and those who have protection against hepatitis B infection (through vaccination). For those with hepatitis B, treatment options for hepatitis B consist of antiviral medications that can help to control the virus and reduce the risk of serious liver damage, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Treatment is taken daily for life generally. PWID lack access to these treatments due to the stigma attached with substance use and addiction. Some of these stigmas include being associated with dangerous, unpredictable, and lacking self-control (NIH, 2019). In a recent study, 88% of individuals from PWID have experienced some type of stigma from the healthcare system (NIH, 2019).  Some of these stigmas included being poorly treated in healthcare facilities while interacting with nurses, security guards, and other medical providers. Due to these biases, people often refuse to seek health care services to avoid mistreatment. Stigma is the top barrier for PWID communities worldwide (Biancarelli et al, 2019). Even though the cost of treatment may be a barrier for some people, there are resources to find affordable options. Learn more about accessing medication here

Prevention Strategies

One effective prevention strategy to combat the spread of hepatitis B among PWID is to use clean injection equipment, like needles, works, and syringes. This will reduce the likelihood of transmission. New services have been introduced in cities like Philadelphia to decrease the rate of sharing needles. Prevention Point Philadelphia for example is a nonprofit public health organization that works to provide comprehensive harm reduction services to Philadelphia and surrounding areas. The syringe service program specifically allows used syringes to be exchanged for clean ones. With these services, the need to share needles can decline, which then can help decrease the risk of hepatitis B and other infectious diseases being spread in the community. Needle and syringe programs also provide other social and health services, such as counseling,  hepatitis testing, and referral to drug treatment for example.

Another way to prevent hepatitis B in PWID is through education and outreach efforts to help raise awareness about the risks of transmission and how to reduce those risks. This will also encourage safer injection practices to reduce the risk of transmission through blood contact. Other recommendations for prevention of hepatitis B among people who inject drugs is to offer vaccinations for PWID communities. The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective and recommended for all adults in the US between the ages of 18-59 and above 59 with risk factors. Testing is another great way to help the community- to identify infection and encourage prevention through vaccination ultimately preventing liver cancer in the long run. Offering people who inject drugs incentives to increase uptake and complete the vaccination schedule is also a way to prevent hepatitis B in PWID (WHO, 2023).  The United States has set a goal to decrease the number of cases of hepatitis B in the PWID community. The National Progress Report goal is to reduce the rate of new hepatitis B virus infections among people who inject drugs by more than 25% by 2025 (CDC, 2020). 


To learn more about the resources provided by Prevention Point, click here.



World Health Organization. (2022, June 24). Hepatitis B. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-b

World Health Organization. (2015, March). Guidelines for the prevention, care and treatment of persons with chronic hepatitis B infection. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241549059

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 11). NP report 2025 goal: Reduced HBV rate among PWID. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/policy/NPR/2020/NationalProgressReport-HepB-ReduceInfectionsPWID.htm

Biancarelli DL, Biello KB, Childs E, Drainoni M, Salhaney P, Edeza A, Mimiaga MJ, Saitz R, Bazzi AR. Strategies used by people who inject drugs to avoid stigma in healthcare settings. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2019 May 1;198:80-86. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2019.01.037. Epub 2019 Mar 8. PMID: 30884432; PMCID: PMC6521691.

Haber, P., & Schillie, S. (2021, August 18). Pinkbook: Hepatitis B. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/hepb.html 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, March 17). QuickStats: Age-adjusted drug overdose death rates, by state – National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/72/wr/mm7211a7.htm?s_cid=mm7211a7_e&ACSTrackingID=USCDC_921-DM101471&ACSTrackingLabel=This+Week+in+MMWR+-+Vol.+72%2C+March+17%2C+2023&deliveryName=USCDC_921-DM101471

Board of Health, Department of Public Health. (2022, October 26). Health Department releases data on 2021 overdose deaths in Philadelphia: Department of Public Health. City of Philadelphia. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://www.phila.gov/2022-10-26-health-department-releases-data-on-2021-overdose-deaths-in-philadelphia/