Liver specialist, Professor Frank Murray, said the rise in the number of alcohol-related cases of liver disease in young women has become tragically high and people are unaware or reckless about risks of alcohol abuse.
The President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland said it is a silent disease which often shows little or no symptoms until the liver has gone into failure.
He said: “About three-quarters of people with liver failure have no symptoms attributable to their liver until their liver fails or the damage is irreversible. Sometimes people get a warning and get an abnormal liver test or go yellow. But once you go yellow you are in terrible trouble.
“Liver disease has approximately doubled in Ireland in the last 20 years for both men and women. It’s a pattern of drinking which over years and decades leads to cirrhosis. We’re seeing people in their early 30s dying from liver failure. Before it was 40s and 50s mainly.”
Mr Murray, who is a consultant physician and gastroenterologist at Beaumont Hospital, said alcohol “has become a much more equal opportunities destroyer. The pattern has changed from mainly men drinking in pubs to both men and women drinking at home, vast amounts of cheap alcohol. One patient told me she drank half a bottle of wine, Monday to Thursday every day and a bottle of wine every day of the weekend. She was a professional woman, lived a normal family life. She didn’t think it was a problem because she never missed a day’s work, she had no symptoms, she was a very sociable person but she got liver failure.
“The effects are insidious and pernicious and under recognised. You see it on the wards every day.”
He said three deaths every day are related to alcohol in Ireland: “It is shocking and horrifying. Three people are dying every day in Ireland from alcohol — liver disease, brain damage, overdoses, accidents, incidence, falls. (Deaths) that wouldn’t have happened without alcohol. Liver disease is about a third of that.”
He said the country needs to take steps to address the alcohol crisis claiming so many lives every day: “There is no healthy way of doing the 12 pubs of Christmas. Alcohol is very enjoyable but it’s very dangerous.”
Prof Murray said part of the solution is to reduce that availability and increase the cost of all the cheap alcohol consumed by young people in Ireland. “Everyone knows tobacco is harmful. Nobody is ambivalent about it. It’s the same with drugs but with alcohol we’re ambivalent about because we all like a few drinks and because alcohol is part of everything we do in Ireland. But what we need to do in Ireland is learn how to drink in a sensible way.
“When President Kennedy came in the 1960s Irish people drank about five litres per person and now it’s about 11 litres. It peaked at around 13 or 14 litres in 2000. The reason for that is Ireland went from a nation of relatively low alcohol consumption of mainly in men to being a nation of very heavy alcohol consumers of both men and women in the last 40 years.