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Rise In Alcohol-Related Diseases In Younger Adults

In American culture, drinking alcohol is often a prominent part of parties and sports events, a right of passage for some, and a way to mourn a loss. In past years, alcohol-related liver disease affected individuals in middle age or older, but studies suggest that a younger demographic is experiencing a sharp increase. Years of heavy drinking can cause cirrhosis or severe liver disease, and more young adults are dying from it than ever before. Between 1999 and 2019, a “three-fold” increase in deaths from alcohol-related liver disease occurred.

These recent findings are concerning for multiple reasons. The growing number of severe liver diseases among younger individuals may indicate a concerning trend of problematic drinking habits among various age groups.

The Potential Causes Of Increased Rates Of Liver Disease

Researchers suspect several causes for the shift in heavy drinking that resulted in higher rates of severe liver disease among the younger population. However, a leading proponent for this trend links back to the pandemic. Drinking trends changed rapidly due to the increased isolation and uncertainty many faced because of lockdowns. During the first year of the pandemic, alcohol deaths soared, with the quickest rise among women. An important factor in this increased death rate could be linked to the fact that numerous drug and alcohol treatment facilities shut their doors to abide by COVID-19 restrictions. Those who were routinely receiving care for their alcohol use disorder (AUD) were suddenly left to cope on their own.

Additionally, individuals are drinking more “per unit volume,” according to Dr. Elliot Tapper, a liver disease expert and gastroenterology specialist at the University of Michigan Medical School. Briefly put, studies show a trend that those who do drink are drinking large quantities of alcohol more frequently.

Health Risks Of Excessive Drinking

With an increasing trend of 25 to 34-year-olds experiencing severe liver disease, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. Heavy drinking can have lasting, severe effects on the body, regardless of age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more for men during one occasion, and heavy drinking is defined as 8 or more for women and 15 or more drinks for men per week. While cultural beliefs may suggest that drinking several drinks within a short amount of time is okay, this amount of alcohol can have lasting, damaging effects on the body.

Multiple studies suggest that any amount of alcohol is harmful, but excessive use of alcohol can increase the risk of short-term and long-term health risks. Short-term health risks of excessive alcohol consumption include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Bodily injuries (including injuries from car crashes, burns, falls, and drownings)
  • Potential violence (including sexual violence, suicide, homicide, and intimate partner violence)
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) among pregnant individuals
  • Sexual behavior risk (including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners) 

An individual can face long-term, life-threatening conditions and diseases with prolonged, excessive drinking. Simply put, the longer that excessive alcohol consumption goes on, the more severe the repercussions. Long-term health risks of excessive drinking include:

  • Alcohol dependence
  • Mouth, throat, breast, liver, and esophagus cancer
  • Mental health conditions (including depression and anxiety)
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease

While alcohol-related liver disease may be a condition that develops further down the road, there are multiple other health conditions that can result from alcohol abuse. It is crucial not to wait until severe health symptoms emerge to seek treatment for alcohol addiction or alcohol abuse.

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When To Consider Treatment

Since drinking alcohol is so normalized in our culture, it can be challenging to determine when your drinking habits evolve from heavy or binging drinking to an alcohol use disorder. It’s important to note that you don’t have to wait until you have developed alcohol dependency or alcohol-related liver disease to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol or to receive treatment. Often those with an AUD will try to downplay their drinking habits and hide their symptoms, which can make it difficult to spot. However, there are behavioral warning signs that your drinking patterns have become an alcohol use disorder. Behavioral warning signs of an alcohol use disorder include:

  • Loss of control over alcohol use 
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Sudden changes in friend groups and interest 
  • Multiple unsuccessful attempts to quit drinking
  • Continuing alcohol use despite negative consequences 

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If you or a loved one decide that treatment is the best step to address problematic drinking, there are various treatment options to consider. The type of treatment needed will depend on what level of care you or a loved one needs. For a more intensive approach, inpatient treatment facilities provide 24/7 supervision by medical professionals. In contrast, outpatient treatment facilities allow individuals to maintain their routine and reside at home between treatments. Additional treatment options include detoxification, intensive outpatient treatment, sober living homes, and various therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and online therapy.

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Don’t Wait To Find Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, it may be time to consider treatment. You don’t have to wait for a “rock bottom” or a troubling event to occur before you reach out for help. Early intervention and treatment can positively impact the course of recovery. In fact, for younger adults, there is a much higher chance of complete recovery of liver function if they quit drinking alcohol. Contact a treatment provider today if you or a loved one would like more treatment information.

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