Alcoholic liver disease rates and deaths almost treble

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Increases in ALD are consistent with increases in alcohol consumption and harmful drinking patterns
Increases in ALD are consistent with increases in alcohol consumption and harmful drinking patterns

Alcoholic liver disease rates and deaths in Ireland have almost trebled, new figures reveal.

Analysis of data from Ireland’s Hospital In-Patient Enquiry (HIPE) scheme has revealed a “considerable increase” in alcohol liver disease (ALD) morbidity and mortality between 1995 and 2007.

Rates of alcoholic liver disease per 100,000 adults increased by 190% from 28.3 in 1995 to 82.2 in 2007, according to figures published in the journal, Alcohol and Alcoholism.

The figures also reveal “considerable increases” of alcohol liver disease amoung younger age groups.

Among 15-34 years olds, the rate of ALD discharges increased by 247%, while for the 35-49 age group, the rate increased by 224%.

This is a “worrying trend” but is “not surprising”, researchers found, as 18-29-year-old drinkers have the highest level of alcohol consumption among Irish drinkers and two-fifths binge drink weekly.

However, the figures show that the majority of ALD discharges are still among the 35 to 64 age groups.

Over two-fifths (43%) of all discharges were aged 50-64 years; 35% were 35-49 years old, 16% were aged over 65 years, while 6% were 15-34 years old.

The report found that while the majority of ALD discharges were male (70%), there was a higher proportion of young females.

This too was “unsurprising” according to researchers, as young Irish women “drink in a manner similar to males with harmful drinking patterns, including weekly binge drinking common among this group”.

The study found that increases in Alcoholic Liver Disease are consistent with the increase in alcohol consumption and harmful drinking patterns.

In 1987, alcohol consumption among adults was 9.8 litres but in the 14 years up until 2001, consumption almost doubled to 14.3 litres.

During the same period, there was a year on year increase in the overall rate of alcohol liver disease, except in 2003, when rates of alcoholic liver disease declined by 7%.   At the same time, overall alcohol consumption dropped by a 6% to 13.4 litres.

The fall in alcohol consumption, the first notable drop since 1987, is “widely attributable” to an increase in excise duty on spirits that year.

“These results indicate that there has been a genuine increase in the occurrence of and mortality from [alcohol liver disease] and this is consistent with an increase in per capita consumption and harmful drinking patterns,” researchers said.

The introduction of effective policy measures to reduce overall per capita alcohol consumption and harmful drinking patterns in Ireland is “urgently required”, they concluded.

The figures were published in a letter compiled by Deidre Mongan from the Health Research Board, P. Aiden McCormack from the Liver Unit, St Vincent’s University Hospital and University College Dublin, Sinead O’Hara from the Economic and Social Research Institute, Bobby Smyth from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at Trinity College and Jean Long from the Health Research Board.