Think that alcohol-related liver disease only plagues older adults who have been drinking heavily for decades? Think again. Emerging research now shows a dramatic increase in fatalities caused by liver cirrhosis among young adults between the ages of 25-34.
This research poses an alarming trend for both young adults and their loved ones. Why is alcohol-related liver disease on the rise? What can be done about it? And, at what point is the damage irreversible?
The Alarming Issue of Liver Disease
Between 1999 and 2016, the number of young deaths related to alcohol-related liver disease nearly tripled. This rise in deaths corresponds to the rising rates of binge drinking occurring throughout the United States.
To date, 1 in 6 adults reports drinking about four times a month. The average consumption during these binge periods is seven drinks.
Interestingly, one liver specialist, Dr. Neehar Parikh, found that binge drinking started spiking around 2009, a year associated with a ravaging recession plaguing the country. Parikh hypothesized that the loss of opportunity and emotional burden associated with it might have surged problematic drinking.
Today, many liver specialists report seeing more young adults on their caseloads than ever before. They associate it with the widespread socialization of binge drinking and other, prevalent risk factors like obesity- which can exacerbate liver problems.
What Is The Solution?
Unfortunately, there have not been many efforts to reduce alcohol abuse in America. That said, the Community Preventive Services Task Force offers some practical solutions to reduce alcohol-related problems. These solutions include:
- Regulating alcohol outlet density in retailers (such as bars, liquor stores, or restaurants)
- Increasing alcohol taxes on federal and state levels
- Holding retail establishments that serve alcohol liable for harm caused by serving alcohol to underage or intoxicated customers
- Limiting the days and hours in which alcohol can be sold each week
- Increased compliance checks to ensure the prohibition of selling alcohol to minors
These solutions may benefit society on a prosocial level. However, they will not be helpful for individuals already struggling with alcoholism.
Fortunately, for young adults, most liver disease problems are reversible. The liver tends to be very resilient, and it can develop new cells.
Drinking large amounts of alcohol- even just over a few days- can lead to fat buildup in the liver. However, if you stop drinking for two weeks, the liver typically returns to normal functioning.
Cirrhosis occurs when the liver has severe scarring. While it is not inherently reversible, when someone stops drinking, it can pause and even prevent further damage. However, if the person does not stop drinking, they face serious complications including death.
For most young adults, the most straightforward answer is to stop drinking. Since this is easier said than done, seeking professional treatment may be the best answer for recovery.
In treatment, individuals receive support, monitoring, and stabilization throughout the initial stages of recovery. They also learn the necessary life skills and relapse prevention techniques to manage triggers and cravings in the future.