Cirrhosis, a serious liver disease, is one of the most severe complications of alcoholism. While there’s no known cure, patients who’ve been diagnosed with the disease can improve their prognosis if they stop drinking.
However, a recent study found that most people, especially women, with cirrhosis are not receiving substance abuse treatment to help them recover from alcoholism — even if their insurance plan offers coverage for addiction disorders.
The report, released by the Research Society on Alcoholism last month, looked at data on 66,053 privately insured patients between the ages of 18 and 64 who had been diagnosed with alcohol-associated cirrhosis from 2009 to 2016. They found that those who attended alcohol abuse treatment or took a medication known to help with drinking disorders were 15 percent less likely to see their cirrhosis worsen than people who received no substance abuse treatment.
Despite the positive effect treatment for alcoholism can have on liver disease, most patients don’t receive it. The researchers found that only 10 percent of the group received in-person mental health or substance abuse treatment and less than 1 percent were prescribed a Food and Drug Administration–approved medicine that could help prevent a drinking relapse. The vast majority of patients had insurance plans that covered these interventions.
While alarming, the statistics don’t come as a surprise to some experts, including Dr. Robert Brown, a hepatologist and director of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
“The study confirms what anyone who is in the practice of managing patients with liver disease already knows — that while alcohol cessation treatment programs can improve outcomes, very few patients avail themselves to it,” he said.