Alcohol-related liver disease is increasingly killing younger people in the United States.
Between 2009 and 2016, deaths attributed to alcohol-related cirrhosis, which is the scarring of the liver that can lead to its failure over time, was consistently on the rise, with sharp increases in the 25-to-34-year-old age group, according to NBC News.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, deaths continued to rise, rising each year for both genders, according to a report published in March 2022 in Clinical Gastroenterology.
Dr. Jessica Mellinger, a liver specialist, has seen the impact the alcohol-related ailment has had on young patients.
“We’re definitely seeing younger and younger patients coming in with what we previously thought was advanced liver disease seen in patients only in their middle age, 50s and 60s,” Mellinger said.
There are many potential causes for the increase, including economic uncertainty to isolation during the pandemic. Dr. Elliot Tapper, a liver disease expert and gastroenterology specialist at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, said that another reason could be that drinks have become more potent.
“People are drinking more per unit volume,” Tapper said.
Experts told NBC that effective treatment includes a combination of care from a psychiatrist, an addiction specialist and a liver specialist. That means that only telling patients they will die if they don’t stop drinking is not enough, said Dr. Henry Kranzler, Benjamin Rush Professor of Psychiatry and director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
“There needs to be a real thoughtful and concerted plan,” said Kranzler.
The message is also more powerful when you show the person scans of their liver, he said.
“It is more motivating because it’s more tangible than saying in a vague way, if you will stop things will get better,” he added.
If young patients stop drinking alcohol, there is a high chance of complete recovery of liver function, Tapper said.