People have been drinking more during the pandemic, leading to a huge spike in the need for liver transplants.
In a study released yesterday (Octoer 26), University of Michigan researchers revealed a significant 50% increase correlating between the number of people on a waiting list for a liver and the increase in retail sales of alcohol during the pandemic time frame.
People seeking liver transplants experience alcoholic hepatitis – when the liver stops processing alcohol, which could lead to irreversible liver damage. It normally takes years of heavy drinking to fall victim to this condition, but it can also happen within a short time frame when alcohol is consumed in excess.
In the new study, researchers compared the exact number of new people put on the U.S. organ transplant list from March 2020 to January 2021 with the projected numbers that were based on pre-pandemic data. Researchers next correlated national monthly retail alcohol sales records between January 2016 and 2021.
“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 researchers wrote, “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 study falls in line with previous pandemic research, including one study that reported nearly 1 in 5 Americans turning to “heavy drinking” to cope as recently as April. A study by the RAND Corporation last fall found the frequency of alcohol consumption in the U.S. rose 14% compared with before the pandemic. Women, in particular, increased heavy drinking days by 41%, according to the study.