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Young adults ‘drinking themselves to death,’ as alcohol-related liver disease deaths rise

Deaths from cirrhosis--the late stages of liver damage--jumped by 65 percent between 1999 and 2016. The biggest group of victims were people between the ages of 25 and 34 and the major cause was alcohol. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — New data suggest young adults are drinking themselves to death, and Maryland is the only state in which the cirrhosis mortality rate is improving.

According to data published in the journal BMJ, deaths from cirrhosis — the late stages of liver damage — jumped by 65 percent between 1999 and 2016. The biggest group of victims were people between the ages of 25 and 34 and the major cause was alcohol.

In 2016, 11,073 people died due to liver cancer, double the number of such deaths in 1999.

Cirrhosis can be caused by a virus like hepatitis C or fatty liver disease, and as liver specialists have made strides in fighting hepatitis C, “We thought we would see improvements, but these data make it clear: even after hepatitis C, we will still have our work cut out for us,” said liver specialist Dr. Elliot B. Tapper.

According to the data, cirrhosis deaths began increasing in 2009 and Tapper suggests a connection between “increased alcohol consumption and unemployment associated with the global financial crisis.”

Between 2009 and 2016, cirrhosis caused 460,760 deaths.

The research also showed that fewer Asian and Pacific Islanders died of liver cancer, and among the states that were hit with the most cirrhosis deaths were Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and New Mexico.

Neehar Parikh, co-author of the study, said deaths due to alcohol-related liver disease are preventable and suggested alcohol taxes and less alcohol 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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