HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Alcohol sales have soared during the pandemic, and now, researchers are looking into the effects that the increase may be having on the human body. One national study showed liver transplant demand had a positive correlation with a rise in liquor sales.
The study found those receiving transplants or ending up on a waitlist due to alcohol-related illness went up 50% more than what was projected.
While it’s impossible to truly prove the correlation is true causation, the spike in illnesses is reflected in Huntsville.
“We’ve seen in our hospital consults, for instance, hospital patients, up to 25, 35% increase in the number of patients admitted for alcohol-related diseases,” Huntsville Hospital Gastroenterologist Dr. Suresh Karne said. “It is taxing the system, but COVID has taxed the whole world.”
Now, the question becomes are there enough livers to go around for these transplants: the short answer — no.
“There is a tremendous shortage of organs for transplant all over, whichever organ you want to talk about, there’s a tremendous shortage. It’s about five to six percent of all patients who need it get the transplant,” Dr. Karne said.
He said many times, the liver can heal if the disease is caught early enough. So it’s important to talk to patients about underlying issues that oftentimes accompany alcohol abuse, like stress or depression.
“I think the study that was published was a warning for us to say, ‘hey let’s be very aggressive, so we can prevent permanent liver damage that can have the nerve and not have a need for liver transplantation,'” he said.
Dr. Karne adds there is a larger conversation to be had around mental health, especially as it relates to the pandemic and coping habits. Saying alcohol needs to be dealt with carefully or abstained from altogether.
Otherwise, he says in three to four years, there could be an even longer list of those waiting for transplants.