Alcoholic Liver Disease
Heavy drinking over a long period of time can take its toll on the liver by causing cirrhosis. Before the onset of cirrhosis the liver sometimes may accumulate an excessive amount of fat (known as fatty liver disease), which interferes with its proper functioning. Moreover, alcohol consumption can accelerate the rate at which other conditions, such as hepatitis C, damage the organ. According to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, alcoholic liver disease was the third leading indication for liver transplantation in 2003 (26 percent of the transplant recipients in this category also were infected with hepatitis C).
If alcoholic liver disease is identified in an early stage and if the person stops drinking, it is possible that his or her condition could improve. However, these are two major “ifs,” considering the often-silent nature of liver disease and the difficulty of breaking an addiction. Sometimes, the liver damage is advanced, and a liver transplant is needed.
Patients with alcoholic liver disease must meet the following criteria to be considered for liver transplantation at University Hospital: (1) abstinence from alcohol use; (2) ongoing participation in an alcohol treatment program or support group; and (3) presence of an adequate psychosocial support system. These patients must enter a formal contract with the transplant team outlining the parameters of abstinence from alcohol use.