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Cirrhosis on the Rise in Young People

Cirrhosis is a disease that affects the liver and usually results from intense, prolonged alcohol intake. It is the toxins in alcohol that cause inflammation, which eventually leads to irreversible scarring of the organ. In past decades, the stereotypical cirrhosis victim was an older, overweight man with an unhealthy skin pallor. Often this visual included a cherry-red nose due to blood vessels bursting beneath the skin—a result of excessive drinking.

Today, that stereotype is long gone. Due to binge drinking in young people, the picture is changing and it is changing fast.

rsz_1photo-1485872299829-c673f5194813A study revealed that not only are more Americans across the board dying of conditions related to liver cirrhosis, but the numbers of young people dying of these factors are escalating at an alarming rate.

A study, recently published in The BMJ, found that deaths in the United States due to cirrhosis rose 65% and deaths from liver cancer doubled from 1999 to 2016.

In that time, these deaths increased for every ethnic group and for both men and women. What proved striking to researchers was that the greatest increase in death rate from cirrhosis was among people 25 to 34 years old, from 2009 to 2016. It was concluded that a rise in binge drinking among young people accounted for the increase in cirrhosis-related mortality.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a fairly short period of time, typically under two hours. It is a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above.

The goal of binge drinking is to become intoxicated quickly. Considering the alcohol-related toxins, each time a young person binge drinks, the assault on the liver is enormous.

Typically, the most dangerous and intentional binge drinking event is when a young person turns 21. A common tradition is for that individual to consume 21 shots within midnight and 1 a.m. If this ritual is adhered to, the best case scenario is that the person drinks the requisite shots and then vomits. Unfortunately, in some cases, the individual dies from alcohol poisoning or an accident of some kind.

The researchers involved in the cirrhosis study thought that measures such as raising the price of alcohol and diagnosing cirrhosis using existing blood tests might help reduce this problem in young people. Perhaps it may be additionally helpful to educate young people of the very real and permanent consequences of serious drinking.