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July 19, 2018

Study: More young Americans are dying of liver disease caused by alcoholism

Researchers suspect increase tied to Great Recession

Illness Liver Disease
Beer Matan Segev/Pexels

The annual amount of Americans dying from liver disease and liver cancer has risen since 2009, according to a new study.

The statistics are particularly jarring for young adults.

The number of Americans aged 25-to-34 who died from cirrhosis rose by 10.5 percent from 2009 to 2016, researchers found. That increase – the largest of any age demographic – was driven by alcohol-related liver disease.

Cirrhosis creates scar tissue within the liver, making it difficult for the organ to carry out vital functions. Chronic alcohol abuse is among the major causes of cirrhosis, but it also can be caused by viral hepatitis and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Researchers reviewed death certificate data for nearly 600,000 American adults dating back to 1999. Deaths from cirrhosis increased by 65 percent from 1999 to 2016. Meanwhile, liver cancer deaths doubled.

Dr. Elliot B. Tapper, a liver specialist who led the research, suspects the deaths among young adults could be tied to the Great Recession, which began in December 2007. People could have been trying to comfort themselves through the bottle.

“We suspect that there is a connection between increased alcohol use and unemployment associated with the global financial crisis," Tapper said. "But more research is needed.”

The study's findings were published Wednesday in the medical journal BMJ.