Hep B Blog

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.

Comments on this blog are closed. If you have questions about hepatitis B or this blog post, please email info@hepb.org or call 215-489-4900.

4 thoughts on “How to Navigate Disclosure, Denial and Drinking with Hepatitis B During the Holidays”

  1. Hello – over X mas I noticed that on a couple of the nails (small fingers) on my hand there is a whitening towards the knuckle end of the nail. The tips are still redddy pink. The whitening is not bright but a bit mild and frosty and changes depending on the angle you look at the nail. I have googled and see that “Terry’s Nails” can be a symptom of liver disease. Most of the nails look healthy and when I see some of the worse examples on-line its pretty mild but I notice it now. I have also noticed it in other people since so maybe its not so abnormal or uncommon? I have had a Fibroscan and have been told I have stage 2-3 fibrosis. I am now panicking that I have cirrhosis and that the Fibroscan was wrong. Is this kind of symptom a predictor of cirrhosis over just fibrosis? Or can Hep B and fibrosis cause Terry’s nails? Or maybe they are not Terry’s nails at all? Or maybe something else caused it? Arggghhh. My ultrasound shows no sign of cirrhosis or hypertension in addition to the Fibroscan. Going crazy please help!

  2. Truth!Virus can pass to one person to other. We must be safe and aware on what we eat and drink. Thank your for sharing this thoughts to us.

  3. Hep b carrier for about 20 years ago,i dont feel any pain in my stomach, my husband immunized because im afraid of his health.after 5 years i always remind him to get vaccinated, but now he dont want to go to his dr. Anymore, does he is stil safe? Im also worried about my kids, they vaccinated in our center when they were about 6months they complete the vaccine,but still worried until now.hope to have cure the next year to come.

    1. Hello: It’s not unusual to never feel any pain or discomfort from hepatitis B. There are very few never endings around our livers, so we don’t feel any inflammation or liver damage.
      I am sorry your husband does not want to be immunized, the hepatitis B vaccine is very safe and effective. His health is at far greater risk from hepatitis B than it is from a vaccine.
      Please get your children tested for hepatitis B to make sure they are not infected. Usually doctors recommend immunizing children born to infected mothers immediately, so it would be a good idea to get them tested to make sure.
      We are optimistic that researchers will develop a cure in the next few years. Millions of lives depend on it. Good luck.

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