Demand for liver transplants among heavy drinking Americans surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study shows.
It found that the number of people with alcoholic hepatitis who received a new liver (32,320) or were put on a liver transplant waiting list (51,488) between March 2020 and January 2021 was 50% higher than what was expected based on pre-pandemic patterns, CNN reported.
There was little change in the number of people without alcoholic hepatitis who needed a liver transplant, according to the study published Oct. 26 in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Alcoholic hepatitis often develops after years of heavy drinking, but can also develop after a short period of excessive alcohol use, CNN reported. With alcoholic hepatitis, the liver stops processing alcohol and instead creates highly toxic chemicals that trigger inflammation. The inflammation can kill off healthy liver cells, creating irreversible damage to the liver.
The University of Michigan study also found a sharp rise in alcohol sales from March 2020 until the end of that year.
"While we cannot confirm causality, this disproportionate increase [in liver transplant need] in association with increasing alcohol sales may indicate a relationship with known increases in alcohol misuse during COVID-19," the study authors wrote.
They added that the research "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."
Visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for more on alcoholism.