A University of Michigan study published Tuesday revealed that the number of people who got a liver transplant or were put on a waiting list over alcoholic hepatitis was 50% higher than before the pandemic.

Alcoholic hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that mostly occurs in people who drink heavily over many years. The damage this condition can cause to the liver can result in requiring a liver transplant before it risks becoming deadly.

Using alcohol sales data for the five-year period between 2016 and 2021, the researchers found that there was a correlation between increased sales and an increase in the number of people on a liver transplant waitlist or who received one. This number went up noticeably during the period of March 2020 and January 2021 during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“While we cannot confirm causality, this study provides evidence for an alarming increase in alcoholic hepatitis associated with known increases in alcohol misuse during COVID-19,” said Maia S. Anderson, M.D., a general surgery resident at Michigan Medicine and co-author of the study. “And it highlights the need for public health interventions around excessive alcohol consumption.”

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, there were 11,886 patients in need of a kidney transplant in 2020. As of September 2021, the HRSA estimated that 10% of all patients on an organ donor waitlist are waiting for a kidney transplant.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased consumption of alcohol by Americans among other addictive substances. In August, a Columbia University study found that there was a 20% increase in liquor sales between March and September 2020 and the same period in 2019.