In a new study, scientists found alcohol drinking increased strongly across the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the impact was greatest among American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations.
Deaths from the alcohol-associated liver disease were six times those of white people, according to a study by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
The study highlights the urgent need for action to address the systemic failure of supportive healthcare and the lack of critical resources for AIAN populations.
Senior author Jagpreet Chhatwal, Ph.D., associate professor of Radiology, at Harvard Medical School, says that even before the pandemic, there was a steady increase in alcohol consumption in the United States.
Studies have shown that people who engage in any level of drinking are more likely to become excessive in their habits.
This is especially true for AIAN populations, who are more vulnerable to alcohol-associated liver disease than any other racial or ethnic group.
Alcohol-associated liver disease is characterized by progressive deterioration of the liver and loss of function and is now the leading indication for liver transplant in the United States.
The rate of ALD grew nationally by 43 percent from 2009 to 2015, accounting for more than $5 billion in direct healthcare costs in 2015 alone.
At the height of the pandemic, deaths from ALD increased by 23 percent in just one year.
The study cites the need for much higher levels of preventive healthcare and resource allocation to agencies like the Indian Health Service (IHS).
It provides comprehensive health services to the approximately 2.6 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in 574 federally recognized tribes in 37 states.
The researchers also call for increased awareness among AIAN populations of the alarming mortality rates from alcohol-associated liver disease, and the implementation of universal alcohol screening and preventive health programs.
Chhatwal points out that alcohol consumption hasn’t shown any signs of decline even as the pandemic has receded.
He emphasizes that alcohol-associated liver disease among all ethnicities continues to represent a serious burden on the nation’s healthcare system, and the problem will only intensify if meaningful steps are not taken to address it now.
The study serves as a reminder that we need to prioritize the health of all populations, especially those who are most vulnerable.
By increasing awareness, providing resources, and implementing preventive healthcare programs, we can take steps to reduce the burden of alcohol-associated liver disease and improve the health of our communities.
How to prevent alcohol-related liver disease
Alcohol-related liver disease is a serious condition that can cause progressive deterioration of the liver and loss of function.
It’s important to take steps to prevent or manage the disease before it becomes a major health crisis. Here are some ways to prevent alcohol-related liver disease:
Limit alcohol consumption: The most effective way to prevent alcohol-related liver disease is to limit or avoid alcohol consumption.
If you do drink, it’s important to do so in moderation. For women, this means no more than one drink per day, and for men, no more than two drinks per day.
Get regular check-ups: Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help detect liver disease early on, when it’s easier to manage.
Your healthcare provider can also provide guidance on how to reduce your risk of liver disease.
Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of liver disease, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet.
Eat a balanced diet: A diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help protect the liver from damage.
Avoid harmful substances: Avoiding exposure to harmful substances like drugs, chemicals, and viruses can help reduce the risk of liver disease.
Manage stress: Chronic stress can increase the risk of liver disease, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress through techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
Seek treatment for alcohol addiction: If you have an addiction to alcohol, seeking treatment is essential for preventing alcohol-related liver disease.
Treatment options may include counseling, medication, or rehabilitation programs.
By adopting these healthy habits and seeking treatment when necessary, you can help reduce your risk of alcohol-related liver disease and protect the health of your liver.
Remember, prevention is key, and taking care of your liver is essential for overall health and well-being.
If you care about liver health, please read studies about a new therapy for fatty liver disease, and 5 big myths about liver detoxing you should know.
For more information about liver health, please see recent studies about all types of coffee could help lower the risk of chronic liver disease and results showing that Whole grains could benefit people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The study was conducted by Neeti S. Kulkarni et al and published in JAMA Health Forum.
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