COVID-19-Related Increase in Alcohol Use Could Hike Liver Disease Death Rates

Excessive drinking has increased 21% during the pandemic.

The increase in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic will result in 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, according to new research.

In the study published in Hepatology, senior author Jagpreet Chhatwal, Ph.D., associate director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute for Technology Assessment and an assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, and colleagues used data from a national survey of U.S. adults on their drinking habits between February and November 2020.

They found that excessive drinking (such as binge drinking) increased by 21% during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chhatwal and colleagues thensimulated the drinking trajectories and liver disease trends in all U.S. adults.

They estimated that a one-year increase in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic will result in 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure, and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040.

Plus, in the short term, they expect alcohol consumption changes due to COVID-19 to cause 100 additional deaths and 2,800 additional cases of liver failure by 2023.

The researchers noted that a sustained increase in alcohol consumption for more than one year could result in 19 to 35% additional mortality.

“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.,” said senior author Chhatwal in a news release about thestudy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had “many unintended consequences with unknown long-term impact,” said co-author Turgay Ayer, Ph.D., the George Family Foundation Early Career Professor of Systems Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. “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.”

“While we have projected the expected impact of societal drinking changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic without any interventions, we hope that our research can help jumpstart needed conversations at every level of society about how we can respond to the many behavioral changes, coping mechanisms, and choices that have short- and long-term implications for the health of individuals, families and communities in America,” added lead author Jovan Julien, M.S., a data analyst at the MGH Institute for Technology Assessment and a Ph.D. candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology.