Doctors warn of surges in alcohol-related liver disease after Covid-19

Doctors warn of surges in alcohol-related liver disease

US transplant centers have reported a significant rise in the number of patients with alcohol-related liver disease, which is being directly attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since the pandemic started, doctors in the US have witnessed liver disease cases double, with more individuals in their 20s and 30s now suffering from it. Traditionally, older men were the most affected, but now younger men and women are requiring life-saving transplants as a result of excessive alcohol consumption over the last few years.

It’s believed that a series of stressors brought on by the pandemic, such as fears of contracting the virus, social isolation, and financial instability, have meant that American adults have been drinking more alcohol than before the pandemic started, and the effects of this are now becoming apparent.

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD)

The liver is one of the most complex organs in the body, responsible for several important tasks, including filtering toxins from the blood, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and helping to fight infection and disease.

A person who drinks alcohol excessively over a prolonged period may develop alcohol-related liver diseases (ARLD), although they may not know that they have the condition until the liver has already been severely damaged.

Physical signs of ARLD can include jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), confusion or drowsiness, weight loss and loss of appetite, and swelling of the ankles and stomach.

According to the Liver Foundation, alcohol is the second most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) in the US, contributing to approximately 20% to 25% of cases.

What are the guidelines on alcohol consumption?

The long-term impact of alcohol misuse is well documented, with physical and mental health issues such as depression, high blood pressure, liver disease, injuries and cardiovascular disease all linked to heavy alcohol use.

According to Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, published by the US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services, adults of legal drinking age who choose to drink alcohol should drink in moderation.

Men of legal drinking age should limit their intake to two drinks or less per day, while women of legal drinking age are advised to limit their intake to one drink or less per day, on days when alcohol is consumed.

The Dietary Guidelines report also outlines alcoholic drink equivalents, to help Americans monitor their intake.

For example, one alcoholic drink is defined as containing 14 grams (0.6 fluid ounces) of pure alcohol. The following beverages would count as one alcoholic drink:

  • 12 fl oz of regular beer (5% alcohol)
  • 5 fl oz of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 5 fl oz of 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)

Top tips to reduce your alcohol intake

As well as keeping track of the number of drinks you have had in one sitting, and being mindful of how many drinks you are consuming during the week, it can be helpful to:

  • Choose smaller drinks – perhaps swapping a large glass of wine for a small glass
  • Avoid drinking every day – aim for a set number of alcohol-free days each week and stick to them
  • Avoid having alcohol at home – having alcohol within easy reach can make limiting your consumption more difficult. Try alcohol-free options instead, like mocktails, to quench your thirst
  • Team up with a friend – it can be helpful to have support when you are trying to reduce how much you drink. Consider teaming up with a friend to reduce your alcohol intake. This can help ensure you stick to your goals

For individuals struggling with more severe alcohol addiction, reducing alcohol intake, or quitting drinking altogether can be extremely challenging, meaning that professional support is required.

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