The Short-Term Psychological Health of Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Liver Transplant Recipients


  • This work was supported in part by grant P50-AA-07378 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Reprint requests: Thomas P. Beresford, M.D., Psychiatry Service (116A), VA Medical Center, 1055 Clermont Street, Denver, CO 80220.


In response to limited resources and overwhelming clinical need, we previously developed an approach to alcoholic patient selection for liver transplant based on factors reported to predict short- and long-term sobriety in prospective studies of alcoholics. The present study reports follow-up data comparing alcohol dependent (n= 22, DSM-3-R criteria) and non-dependent (n= 39) subjects followed from 6 months to 3 years post-transplant. Nine percent of the alcoholics had returned to symptomatic drinking with 14% reporting some exposure to ethyl alcohol. Nearly half (46%) of the non-alcoholic group reported occasional social alcohol use. The alcoholic patients were less likely to be in their first marriage and more likely to be asked about alcohol use at follow-up clinic visits. In most other respects the two groups resembled each other more often than they differed. The alcoholic group reported continued high rates of prognostic factors associated with long-term abstinence although the content of these shifted noticeably between pre- and postoperative assessment. Members of both groups reported high frequencies of medication side effects, of missed doses of medications, and of depressive symptoms. Most felt the transplant had improved their lives but had brought on significant financial burden. There were no differences in subjective appraisals of either psychological or physical health between the two groups. These follow-up data suggest that carefully selected alcohol dependent patients will do as well as non-dependent patients after liver transplant.