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Am J Gastroenterol. 2009 Jul;104(7):1700-6. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2009.226. Epub 2009 May 26.

A shorter duration of pre-transplant abstinence predicts problem drinking after liver transplantation.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.



Liver transplantation for alcoholic liver disease (ALD) can be complicated by abusive or "problem" drinking (PD) after transplant. There are limited data for evaluating the effect of pre-transplant abstinence on post-transplant PD. Few existing studies have included a substantial number of patients with co-existing causes of hepatic dysfunction, and the effect of PD on survival in recent European studies has been controversial. We hypothesized that a longer duration of pre-transplant abstinence would lead to less PD after transplantation. Accordingly, the objectives of this study are to analyze a North American cohort of patients with ALD with or without a secondary diagnosis of liver disease to estimate (i) the incidence of PD and its predictors, as well as (ii) the effect of PD on patient survival.


We conducted a retrospective review of all patients transplanted for ALD surviving for more than 3 months after transplant. PD was defined as either any drinking (AD) to the point of intoxication or drinking above the toxic threshold (>20 g/day in women and >40 g/day in men) on at least two separate occasions. We used Cox's proportional hazards regression to estimate risk ratios and Kaplan-Meier curves with log-rank analysis to compare survival.


Of 213 eligible transplant patients, 42 were excluded. Of the 171 remaining patients, 78% were male; mean age was 52 years. Overall 53% of patients had co-existing causes of liver dysfunction. The mean follow-up was 64.8 months. The median pre-transplant abstinence was 19 months. In all patients, the risk of AD was 24% and PD 13%. Pre-transplant abstinence duration was the only independent predictor of PD after transplant. For every 1-month increment in pre-transplant abstinence, there was a 5% decrease in the adjusted relapse rate. There was no survival difference noted between problem drinkers and non-drinkers.


The risk of PD decreased with increasing pre-transplant abstinence. Our data support pre-transplant abstinence as an important predictor of post-transplant recidivism; however, the optimal period of abstinence remains unclear. Patients with <18 months of abstinence may benefit from more intensive follow-up and rehabilitation after transplant.

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