Newswise — Infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a contagious liver disease with symptoms that range from mild illness for a few weeks to serious, lifelong liver problems. Veterans with HCV infection are almost three times as likely to have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) than veterans without HCV. It is not well understood how the dual occurrence of HCV infection and an AUD impacts a person’s immune system, mood, and brain function. This study investigated how a co-existing AUD contributes to inflammation and psychiatric problems in adults with HCV.

Researchers recruited 55 male veterans with HCV from VA Health Care Systems in Portland, Long Beach, San Diego, and Minneapolis: 42 veterans with and 13 without a co-existing AUD. All participants were evaluated for their alcohol use, mood, and several inflammatory indicators three times during a 12-week period.

Veterans with co-existing HCV and an AUD had more symptoms of depression and anxiety, higher levels of liver enzymes indicative of liver inflammation or cell damage and altered measures of inflammation. The researchers speculated that a greater level of psychiatric symptoms was related to greater inflammation throughout the body, and that alcohol-related changes may have contributed to an increased risk of HCV-related neuropathology. They recommended that additional studies be conducted of the effectiveness of HCV antiviral therapies on brain function among people who drink heavily.

Journal Link: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research