From the Journals

HCV-infected people who inject drugs also have substantial alcohol use



Curing hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection without addressing the high rate of alcohol use disorder in many patients may undermine the benefits of treatment to long-term liver health, according to the results of a large cohort study.

A photo of a man with a drink in his hand, head resting on his arms Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/Thinkstock

Because excess alcohol use is known to accelerate liver disease progression, researchers Risha Irvin, MD, and her colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, examined the prevalence of alcohol use in HCV-infected people who inject drugs (PWID). Their study examined the prevalence and associated correlates of alcohol use (Addictive Behaviors 2019;96:56-61).

They followed a large cohort of 1,623 HCV-antibody positive PWID from 2005 to 2013 from the AIDS Linked to the Intravenous Experience (ALIVE) study. They characterized alcohol use with the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C) questionnaire. Multivariable logistic regression with generalized estimated equations was used to examine sociodemographic, clinical, and substance use correlates of alcohol use.

At baseline, the median age was 47 years, 67% were men, 81% were black, and 34% were HIV positive. The majority (60%) reported injection drug use in the prior 6 months, while 46% reported noninjection cocaine or heroin, 31% reported street-acquired prescription drugs, and 22% reported marijuana use in the same time period. According to the AUDIT-C results, 41% of the patients reported no alcohol use, 21% reported moderate alcohol use, and 38% reported heavy alcohol use at their baseline visit.

The factors that were significantly associated with heavy alcohol use included male sex, black race, income of $5,000 or less, a Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (range 0-60) score of 23 or greater, being homeless, being incarcerated, marijuana use, use of street-acquired prescription drugs, noninjection cocaine/heroin, injection drug use, and cigarette smoking. In a model that included the composite summary variable for substance use intensity, one drug type (adjusted odds ratio, 1.92), two drug types (AOR, 2.93), and three drug types (AOR, 3.65) were significantly associated with heavy alcohol use.

“While clinicians are undoubtedly concerned about any level of alcohol use in the setting of HCV infection due to the acceleration of liver fibrosis, there is particular concern for individuals with heavy alcohol use and their increased risk for cirrhosis and liver failure even after HCV cure. Without intervention, alcohol use will persist after HCV is cured with the potential to undermine the benefit of HCV cure. Therefore, our data point to the need to invest in and develop programs that effectively address alcohol use and co-occurring substance use in this population of PWID with HCV,” the researchers concluded.

The study was supported by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The authors declared that they had no conflicts.

SOURCE: Irvin R et al. Addictive Behaviors. 2019;96:56-61.

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