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Heavier Drinking During Pandemic Means More Liver Disease to Come
  • Posted December 24, 2021

Heavier Drinking During Pandemic Means More Liver Disease to Come

It's clear that COVID-19 has killed many hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. Less clear is its impact on other health issues, which will be felt in the years to come.

Liver disease is projected to be one of those, with 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040.

The reason is the increase in alcohol sales and consumption during the early part of the pandemic, according to a new study.

"Our findings highlight the need for individuals and policymakers to make informed decisions to mitigate the impact of high-risk alcohol drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.," senior author Jagpreet Chhatwal said in a news release from Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston. He's associate director of the hospital's Institute for Technology Assessment.

A national survey of U.S. adults found that excessive drinking, such as binge drinking, increased by 21% during the start of the pandemic.

The researchers projected that a one-year increase in drinking would also lead, in the shorter term, to 100 additional deaths and 2,800 additional cases of liver failure by 2023. And a sustained increase in alcohol consumption for more than one year could result in 19% to 35% greater death rates.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has had many unintended consequences with unknown long-term impact. Our modeling study provides a framework for quantifying the long-term impact of increased alcohol consumption associated with COVID-19 and initiating conversations for potential interventions," said co-author Turgay Ayer, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology.

The findings were published this month in Hepatology.

More information

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a helpline to help people facing substance abuse disorders.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Dec. 17, 2021

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