Dramatic increase in alcohol-related liver disease during pandemic

alcohol intake

A disturbing and unfortunate phenomenon has happened during the pandemic. A consequence of last year’s lockdowns and increases in stress spiked higher alcohol consumption among adults resulting in an increase in severe alcohol-related liver disease. This news comes from a rise in hospital admissions for alcohol-related liver disease in various states. Some healthcare professionals are not surprised by this rise since surveys have been showing that not only were Americans buying more alcohol during the pandemic, they were also drinking it in greater amounts. Another survey found that 1 in 4 Americans reported drinking more because of stress from the pandemic.

What is more worrisome is this consequence includes both people who had a previously under-control alcohol problem in addition to people with no history of alcohol abuse.  Dr. Brian Lee, an assistant professor of clinical medicine and a liver transplant specialist at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC), stated that what’s concerning is the typical patient they are seeing is not someone with a previous drinking problem. Rather, the typical patient is a young woman under the age of 35 with no prior history of alcohol problems. It appears to be just some of the collateral damages of Covid-19 that have led to depression, despair, and hopelessness.

This scenario has been shown again and again during the pandemic that women have been gravely affected by the pandemic and as a result, have turned to consume more alcohol than pre-pandemic days.  Women who used to enjoy a glass of wine or two in the evening found themselves drinking more than half a bottle or more. Over time, many of these women are now being diagnosed with alcohol-related liver damage.

For instance, USC has seen a 30 percent increase in hospital admissions for the alcohol-related liver disease since March 2020. A study published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism discovered that referrals to hospitals at a liver care center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for the alcohol-related liver disease increased by almost 50 percent during the later months of 2020 compared to the same period in the prior year.

Consequences of alcohol-related liver disease

Alcohol-induced liver disease is a common but preventable disease caused by a person consuming a large amount of alcohol. The effects of alcohol on the liver depend on how much and how long a person has been drinking. Consuming a large amount of alcohol can badly damage the liver placing a person at a greater risk for developing liver cancer.

Warning Signs of the disease can include abdominal pain, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and nausea or vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Heavy drinkers may progress through types of alcohol-induced liver disease:

  • Fatty liver: A build-up of fat inside the liver cells that may lead to an enlarged liver.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: This is an acute inflammation of the liver leading to the death of liver cells and often permanent scarring of the liver.
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis: This is the destruction of normal liver tissue that leaves scar tissue in place of functioning liver tissue.

Anyone who consumes a lot of alcohol is at risk for alcohol-induced liver disease. The most important treatment for this condition is for the person to stop drinking alcohol. While the liver is often able to repair some of the damage caused by alcohol, in some cases, a liver transplant may be necessary. But to be eligible for a liver transplant, a person must complete a rehab program and go through alcohol detox.

Final thoughts

The good news is, since a year ago at this time, Covid-19 numbers have declined dramatically, despite the new Delta variant.  But there is still a continued surge in alcohol-related liver disease persisting. Whether this trend is here to stay awhile or not, is concerning and needs to be monitored closely.

In the meantime, it’s important for individuals to understand that drinking in moderation, if at all, is still the best way to consume alcohol and to strictly avoid overconsumption at any time. Not only does it put a person at a greater risk for automobile accidents, making poor decisions, or family dysfunction, it also increases the risk of permanent damage to their liver.

Anyone who has a drinking problem or knows of someone who does should begin with seeking advice on quitting from their doctor for treatment options.

Dramatic increase in alcohol-related liver disease during pandemic
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi