Dramatic spike in liver disease deaths linked to binge drinking

You may want to rethink joining your pals for happy hour.

Image via Getty Images.

According to a new study, the number of deaths related to liver disease in the United States have spiked at an ‘alarming’ rate, leaving researchers worried for young men in particular.

Doctors Elliot Tapper and Neehar Parikh, liver specialists and assistant professors at the University of Michigan Medical School, examined data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention between the years 1999 and 2016.

The results were published earlier this week in the British Medical Journal, revealing that deaths related to cirrhosis of the liver have increased dramatically by 65 per cent, while the number of deaths due to hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) have doubled.

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The most disturbing results for Tapper and Parikh was the nearly 300 per cent increase in cirrhosis related deaths in men aged 25 to 34.

While liver damage is often attributed to years of alcohol intake, the recent rise in binge drinking by young American men has accelerated the process.

“It’s alarming,” Tapper admits. “But the fact is, we are dealing with this kind of condition in our hospital and clinic every day. A lot of younger men are showing up very sick. It’s always shocking to meet someone in their 20s or 30s who has liver failure.”

Image via Getty Images.

Those most at risk for developing liver disease are those who have several drinks each night or anyone who has multiple nights where they consume more than four drinks in one sitting, which Tapper considers binge drinking.

The findings also revealed that certain ethnic groups, particularly white and Native Americans, experienced a rapid increase in liver disease related mortalities beginning in 2009.

“It correlates with the global financial crisis,” the study’s co-author Dr. Parikh explains. “We hypothesize that there may be a loss of opportunity, and the psychological burden that comes with that may have driven some of those patients to abusive drinking.”

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Tapper and Parikh fear that the numbers will only get worse as obesity rates continue to rise, putting those who consume alcohol at a greater risk for developing liver disease.

The solution, in Tapper’s opinion, is a strategic taxation of alcohol beverage to curb consumption, similar to the tax increase on cigarettes that has been proven to reduce smoking. He also believes there needs to be an intervention from public health services to aid those suffering from alcohol addiction.

Tapper says increased public health services like counselling can help those suffering from alcohol addiction. Image via Getty Images.

Although the the findings are grim, Tapper says there is hope – but only if you stop drinking.

“There’s an excellent chance your liver will repair itself,” Tapper said. “Many other organs have the ability to regenerate to some degree, but none have the same capacity as the liver.”

Tapper has worked with patients who have completely turned their lives around by cutting alcohol before it’s too late.

“I’ve had patients who came to me in a wheelchair,” Tapper says. “Three months later, they’re shovelling snow and their lab tests are normal. It’s always because they made that choice to stop drinking.”

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