America's Drinking Habits Are Killing More Young Adults

More Americans, especially young adults, are dying from liver disease, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

The paper, published in The BMJ just a day after the CDC reported on rising liver cancer death rates, paints a troubling picture of how drinking habits are affecting the health of young adults. According to researchers, drinking is likely to blame for the growing number of adults aged 24 to 35 who are dying from cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver.

The number of deaths has jumped by 65% between 1999 and 2016.

During those 17 years, more than 34,000 people died of cirrhosis. Rates of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer, also doubled, with more than 11,000 people dying of the disease.

Younger Americans saw the largest increase in their cirrhosis death rate (10.5%), even though older groups experience more deaths overall. Cirrhosis now accounts for about 1.4% of deaths in the 24-35 age group, largely driven by drinking.

Normally liver failure takes a long time to develop. This implies a different and more intense form of alcohol abuse, with people consuming substantial amounts of alcohol every day. Young adults are no longer binge drinking just on the weekends.

Other groups more likely to die of cirrhosis include whites and Native Americans, as well as people who live throughout the southern and western US. Only Maryland had its cirrhosis death rate improve over the 17-year period.

Because of the increased deaths right around the Great Recession, it’s more than possible that the substandard economy at the time might have contributed to more drinking, and in turn, more deaths.

Neehar Parikh, co-author of the study, said deaths due to alcohol-related liver disease are preventable and suggested taxes and less marketing as possible strategies to reduce such deaths.

“The rapid rise in liver deaths underscores gaps in care and opportunities for prevention,” said Parikh.

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