One for the Road

We Drank So Much During the Pandemic that Liver Transplants Spiked

The number of people on liver transplant waiting lists was 50 percent higher than predicted.

10. 28. 21 / Tony Tran
Andres Haro Dominguez/Futurism
Image by Andres Haro Dominguez/Futurism

We already knew that binge drinking soared during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Now, scientists from the University of Michigan have found a grim result of that pandemic drinking: a major spike in liver transplants. 

The researchers found a positive correlation between the sale of alcohol with the number of patients on liver transplant waiting lists, according to a study the team published in JAMA Network Open. In fact, the number of people on the lists spiked 50 percent higher than pre-pandemic predictions. 

“While we cannot confirm causality, this disproportionate increase in association with increasing alcohol sales may indicate a relationship with known increases in alcohol misuse during COVID-19,” the paper said. 

The study’s authors found that there was also a rise in cases of alcoholic hepatitis, a condition that occurs when the liver can no longer properly process alcohol. This results in the liver becoming inflamed and toxins building up in the organ, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s a serious condition that can eventually lead to complete liver failure. 

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Alcoholic hepatitis can develop either after long periods of heavy drinking, or even short periods of high alcohol consumption.

“This study provides evidence for an alarming increase in (alcoholic hepatitis) associated with increasing alcohol misuse during COVID-19 and highlights the need for public health interventions around excessive alcohol consumption,” the paper adds. 

It’s a morbid finding as the world slowly but surely comes to grips with the full impact of the pandemic on public health. A study released last December found that lockdowns — which were necessary to stem the spread of COVID — resulted in a massive rise in binge drinking for US adults. And all these issues, course, are exacerbated by the fact that many people aren’t getting proper mental health support.

Hopefully, with increased vaccination and waning cases of COVID, we’ll see issues like the rise in liver transplants drop. However, we’ll likely be dealing with the full mental and physical health impacts of the pandemic for a long, long time.

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