Young adults see spike in deaths from alcohol-related liver disease

Study shows binge drinking may be leading cause
Posted at 8:37 AM, Aug 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-22 11:37:30-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV): A new study shows that young adults are seeing a spike in deaths from liver disease related to binge drinking. It's especially dangerous in California, where high alcohol content drinks are popular.

The study, published this month in the British Medical Journal, says that the number of 25- to 34-year-olds who died annually from alcohol-related liver disease nearly tripled between 1999 and 2016, from 259 in 1999 to 767 in 2016, an average annual increase of around 10 percent.

It cites binge drinking as a leading cause, because of rising rates of alcohol consumption between 2002 and 2012.

It's especially bad in California, which the study says was among the top five states for those types of deaths.

Local experts say the kind of alcohol we drink may be to blame, as craft beers tend to have higher concentrations of alcohol.

"If someone was having highly concentrated alcohol, then they're consuming more drinks per hour," says Dr. Rohit Loomba, with the UC San Diego Health Liver Center. "That will have detrimental effects on the liver, for sure."

The CDC recommends no more than 1-2 drinks per day for "moderate" drinking. Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks over 4-6 hours. Loomba says you may hit the "binge" point in fewer drinks if what you're having is stronger.

For example, a Bud Light has just 4.2% alcohol by volume. Craft beers often have 6% or higher, so one craft beer may be as much as 2 or 3 other drinks.

"That quantity of alcohol intake over years definitely will contribute to higher risk for liver disease," says Loomba.

He says people should ask themselves four questions to determine if they are drinking too much:

1. Have you ever cut down on drinking? 

2. Would you be annoyed if somebody asked you to cut down on drinking? 

3. Do you feel guilty after drinking excessively over a weekend? 

4. Do you need an "eye-opener" in the morning to get to work?

Dr. Loomba says if you answered "yes" to 2 or more of these questions, you should talk to your doctor to discuss treatment.

He also says obesity combined with alcohol can lead to more severe liver problems and even death. People with diabetes or who are overweight multiply their risk of the disease.

"If you're obese, you not only should restrict your alcohol, but you should try to lose some weight as well," says Loomba.

The study says the financial crisis may have led to more binge drinking in the past decade, as young adults turned to alcohol to cope with financial stress. Researchers found the rise in alcohol-related deaths overlaps with rising rates of binge drinking from 2002 to 2012 observed across much of the U.S.

The good news, according to the study, is that many liver diseases are preventable and reversible.

"Once you stop alcohol use, you can reverse complications related to it in the majority of cases," says Dr. Loomba.