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Transplantation. 2013 Dec 27;96(12):1015-24. doi: 10.1097/TP.0b013e31829f7579.

Alcohol and substance abuse in solid-organ transplant recipients.

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1 National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Unit and Centre for Liver Research, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK. 2 Liver Unit, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham, UK. 3 Neuropharmacology and Neurobiology, School of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK. 4 NHS Blood and Transplant, Bristol, UK. 5 Address correspondence to: Richard Parker, M.B.Ch.B., M.R.C.P., National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Unit and Centre for Liver Research, University of Birmingham, 5th Floor IBR, Birmingham, UK B15 2TT.


This review focuses on alcohol and substance abuse in the context of solid-organ transplantation. Alcohol and substance abuse are common and may lead to a need for solid-organ transplantation and may also contribute to significant physical and psychologic problems that impact upon the recipient. Damaging levels of alcohol intake can occur in the absence of dependence. Alcohol or substance abuse after transplantation is associated with poor medication compliance and this may increase risk of graft loss. Intravenous drug use is associated with increased risk of infections (especially secondary to opportunistic organisms-bacterial, viral, protozoal, and others-and such infections may be more severe in the immunosuppressed), but there is only anecdotal evidence that such behavior has a worse outcome in transplant recipients. Whereas previous alcohol excess and drug use in kidney recipients are both associated with a small but statistically significantly increased risk of adverse outcomes (hazard ratio, 1.16-1.56), alcohol use within recommended guidelines after transplantation appears safe and possibly beneficial. Robust data are lacking for other organs, but those available suggest that heart transplantation is safe in individuals with a history of alcohol or substance abuse. Health specialists in drug or alcohol addiction should carefully screen all potential transplant candidates for these conditions, and where there is evidence of dependency or abuse, effective psychologic and physical treatment should be offered. Studies have shown that interventions such as psychologic intervention have improved alcohol behavior in the context of liver transplantation. Although there are no comparable studies with other solid-organ recipients, it is reasonable to expect transferable outcomes.

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