Why are Cases of Liver Disease in Young Adults Rising?

In the last three decades, the rate of alcohol consumption has shown a net decrease, but cases of liver disease in young people are on the rise. This misalignment of numbers has begged the question among doctors and physician-scientists: what is causing an increase in liver disease among young adults in the United States? Experts think it may be caused by an increase in extreme binge drinking among young people.

Moderate drinking is defined as approximately one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Moderate drinking is the limit of alcohol consumption that medical practitioners generally feel is safe for most people to avoid liver damage or other negative effects of alcohol. Binge drinking, on the other hand, is more than four drinks for women or five drinks for men at a single time (over a few hours). This amount of alcohol outpaces the body’s ability to metabolize the alcohol and leads to impairment mental and physical functions, also known as being “drunk.”

Even worse than binge drinking is extreme binge drinking, where people consume so much alcohol that they are barely able to walk or talk, and are in danger of fatal alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking is most common among adults between the ages of 18 and 34, and extreme binge drinking puts significant strain on the liver’s ability to process and metabolize alcohol.

Over time, this type of stress on the liver can cause inflammation and liver disease. Liver disease typically develops over years of excessive alcohol use, but doctors are seeing increases in alcohol-related liver disease fatalities among people aged 25 to 35, according to a study published in BMJ. This is a clear indicator that young adults are abusing alcohol and engaging in binge drinking or extreme binge drinking.

While the decrease in overall alcohol consumption is a positive indicator of progress, increased alcohol-related problems among young people is a step in the wrong direction. Public health campaigns aimed at exposing the danger of binge drinking may be the next step in the fight against alcohol-related disorders and disease.

Sources: BMJ, NIAAA, CDC, CDC, Yale Medicine

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