Alcohol Misuse: The Cause Behind the Spike in Liver Transplants

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Alcohol Misuse - The Cause Behind the Spike in Liver Transplants

Due to stress, pressure, and problems, many people think that they could drink their way through the pandemic. In fact, U.S. News reported that there was an increase in alcohol sales from March 2020 until the end of last year.

Alcohol misuse is a serious problem that needs to be addressed as early as possible. Not only can it cause addiction, but it can also be a great contributing factor to the development of alcoholic hepatitis.

If you or someone you know is involved in heavy drinking, you need to know that alcohol misuse is one of the leading causes of the increase in the number of people in the U.S. needing liver transplant.

We’ve gathered the essential pieces of information you need to know about the relationship between alcohol misuse and liver damage.

Can Alcohol Cause Liver Damage?

Long-term alcohol misuse may cause serious liver damage, also known as alcoholic liver disease. This condition occurs mostly in men between the ages of 40 and 50 years old. However, women can also develop alcoholic liver diseases, even after less exposure to alcohol.

Alcoholic liver disease doesn’t occur in every heavy drinker. Its likelihood increases the longer you’ve been drinking and the more alcohol you consume. Even if you don’t get drunk, too much alcohol can cause liver damage over time. It can also lead to alcoholic hepatitis — a condition that involves swelling and inflammation of the liver.

How Much Alcohol Causes Liver Damage?

Two to three alcoholic beverages daily can be harmful to the liver. For some with low tolerance, these numbers are enough to cause liver damage. Furthermore, consuming four to five alcoholic drinks yields a higher risk of developing liver damage.

Taking medication and alcohol at the same time can also damage your liver. Antibiotics, sedatives, antidepressants, and painkillers are dangerous to combine with alcoholic drinks.

Is Alcohol the Reason for the Increase in People Needing Liver Transplant?

According to an October 2021 study published in the journal of JAMA Network Open, alcohol misuse can be one of the causes of the spike in the number of Americans needing a liver transplant. This issue is caused by the increase in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on the findings of the study, the number of Americans diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis and who received a new liver is 32,320. From March 2020 to January 2021, the number of those who were on the waitlist for a liver transplants 51,488. The figure is 50% higher compared to the pre-pandemic patterns.

Signs of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

The thing about liver disease is that it doesn’t usually show symptoms until there’s severe damage already. When that happens, it shows signs, such as:

  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal Swelling
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Vomiting or Nausea
  • Dark-colored Urine
  • Pale, Discolored, or Bloody Stool
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Appetite Loss
  • Disorientation
  • Itchy Skin
  • Fever
  • Drowsiness

Stages of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

Alcohol misuse has three main stages. They are as follows:

1. Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Drinking too much alcohol for a few days can result i a buildup of fats in one’s liver. This stage doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, but it’s a sign that you need to stop alcohol consumption. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is reversible if you refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages for two weeks.

2. Alcoholic Hepatitis

Long periods of alcohol misuse can lead to the second stage, also known as alcoholic hepatitis. This condition is reversible when alcohol consumption is stopped permanently. However, when alcoholic hepatitis gets severe, it can be a life-threatening illness.

3. Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis occurs when there’s severe and irreversible damage to the liver. The best thing to do when this condition develops is to stop alcohol consumption. While doing so cannot reverse the damage, it can prevent further scarring of the liver. Continued alcohol consumption at this stage can lead to premature death.

Complications of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

Liver disease due to too much alcohol consumption can cause different complications including:

  • Internal Bleeding
  • Toxin Buildup in the Brain
  • Fluid Accumulation in the Abdomen
  • Increased Vulnerability to Infection
  • Liver Cancer
  • Portal Hypertension and Varices

Aside from such complications, liver disease and cirrhosis are responsible for approximately 35,000 deaths in the U.S. yearly. Furthermore, cirrhosis is considered the ninth leading cause of death in the entire U.S.

Treatment Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

Currently, there’s still no available treatment for alcohol-related liver disease. Abstinence from alcohol is the best thing to do in order to prevent it from worsening. In some cases, like what happened in the U.S. from March 2020 to January 2021, a liver transplant may be needed.

Haven House Recovery Center Is Here to Help You

If you or a loved one or a friend struggles with alcohol misuse, Haven House Recovery Center is here to help you. We provide a 12-month addiction treatment program for men coming from all walks of life. Our faith-based approach involves helping men restore their faith in God and maintain long-term sobriety. We have a recovery center near Nashville to welcome you. For inquiries, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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