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Rise in alcohol sales has liver doctors worried

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The coronavirus pandemic has led to significant jumps in anxiety, stress and boredom causing many to turn to alcohol. A recent study showed alcohol sales increased by 34% between April and June of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. Doctors say this is a problem.

Drinking heavy amounts of alcohol is linked to conditions such as hepatitis, cirrhosis and multiple types of cancer. 

“It can turn into a chronic habit pretty quickly,” Dr. Lauren Nephew, liver cancer specialist at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, told News 8. “If that happens, you’ll be facing some of those cancer risks down the road so I would certainly not take drinking during the pandemic lightly even if I was a younger person.”

Nephew says while the younger generations may think time is still on their side, that’s just not true. She’s seen an uptick of these patients being admitted to the hospital with alcohol associated liver complications particularly linked to binge drinking. 

But how much is too much?

According to Nephew, a binge is considered having between four and six drinks within a four-hour window. For beer it would be a 12-ounce can, wine a 5 ounce pour and for hard liquor 1.5 ounces of alcohol. 

She also wants people to know that she’s seen people hospitalized who need liver transplants from drinking during the pandemic. Some have even become life-threateningly ill. However, should a person find themselves struggling, Nephew says it’s not too late. They just need to take action.

“Someone who just started drinking heavily during the pandemic has the opportunity to likely turn it around and not have that increased cancer [or other] risk given the short period of time of the pandemic. But certainly if you fall into a longer-term pattern of heavy drinking above those recommended amounts you can get into trouble.”

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 6 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Facebook @DrMaryGillis and Instagram @reportergillis.