Alcoholic liver disease up 30% during pandemic perfect storm, says consultant

Study highlighted how rise in drinking at home in lockdown led to increase in illness

Prof Ryan said that during lockdown people had started having a glass of wine a day, which sometimes led to half a bottle a day

A study of admissions for liver disease at Beaumont Hospital has shown an increase of 30 per cent over the 18 months from the first lockdown.

Professor John Ryan, a consultant at the hepatology unit at the Dublin hospital told Newstalk's Pat Kenny show that such figures were also coming through at other Irish hospitals and internationally as people were drinking more at home.

The study compares before and during Covid admission figures and highlights how the increase in people drinking at home has led to an increase in liver disease, he said.

Hospital Report

In many cases the people involved did not know that they had liver disease, added Prof Ryan.


“It’s a silent killer. The majority will not even know they have the condition.”

People continued to “drink away” until the internal damage was advanced, he explained. The way a liver specialist examined blood samples was different from a GP. Fifty per cent of people with cirrhosis had “normal” liver test results. “It could be normal but there are big problems underneath.”

In some cases it was not until the patient was jaundiced that the extent of the liver damage became apparent. He had patients on his ward who were aged from 20 years to 80 years across both genders.

Prof Ryan said that in Ireland alcohol was ingrained in society. People needed to be better aware of the guidelines for alcohol intake which were 17 units weekly for men and 11 units per week for women. There were 10 to 11 units in a bottle of wine, he pointed out, so people who were drinking a bottle of wine five nights a week were consuming 50 units a week.

“That’s a lot. When you’re getting to that range you would need to come see me.”

Once diagnosed, people with liver damage could lead a full life if their condition was managed, he said, but cirrhosis was irreversible. “Some can be treated and looked after once the complications are screened for and they live a healthy existence apart from alcohol.”

Prof Ryan said that during lockdown people had started having a glass of wine a day, which sometimes led to half a bottle a day. People were self medicating, drinking at home because it was cheaper. It was possible to consume 100 units of alcohol in a week at a cost of €50 and there were no closing hours.

“A perfect storm, that’s what we’re seeing now.”

Prof Ryan said that minimum unit pricing, which was due to be introduced in January, could help reduce the levels of alcohol intake.