The new study found that men were twice as likely to die from cirrhosis and almost four times as likely to die from liver cancer as women. If the liver gets overloaded, its plumbing can get blocked up, causing scarring that can reduce liver function.
The increase among 25- to 34-year-olds is especially troubling because the deaths are due to cirrhosis, a disease caused by excessive drinking, the authors of a new study said.
Dr. Farhad Islami, the scientific director of cancer surveillance research at the American Cancer Society, said the results of the study revealed an interesting pattern between excess alcohol consumption and rates of death due to cirrhosis in young people that warrants further study.
While young people are dying from alcohol-related cirrhosis, older people are dying from liver cancer and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Tapper explained.
The researchers suspect the economic recession beginning in 2008 was responsible for many people turning to alcohol. The fluid in the abdomen can make it look and feel "like you have multiple bowling balls" in your stomach, Tapper said. In that period, cirrhosis-related deaths increased for every ethnic group and for both men and women. Because their study was observational, though, they could not confirm that the two trends were related.
Tapper said "there's an excellent chance your liver will fix itself" in the wake of decreased alcohol consumption.
He said the increased deaths may stem from several factors, including complications of the hepatitis C epidemic, as well as the high frequency of fatty liver disease in the USA population. Tapper believes that the problem related to this issue lies in the fact that "we do not yet have a highly effective treatment for alcohol addiction". Adults older than 75 have the most liver cancer deaths, and the death rate in that demographic increased from 29.8 to 40.2 per 100,000 people between 2000 and 2016. The biggest group of victims were people between the ages of 25 and 34 and the major cause was alcohol.
He said he had been treating more and more young people for cirrhosis and chose to conduct the study to see whether the trend held true nationwide. For example, deaths in Kentucky rose almost 7 percent, in New Mexico 6 percent and in Arkansas almost 6 percent. The one positive report from the study is the declining rate of deaths in Asian-Americans from both cirrhosis and liver cancer.
According to Dr. David Bernstein, chief of hepatology at Northwell Health in Manhasset, N.Y., "This study highlights the silent epidemic of advanced liver disease in the United States, which largely remains unrecognized and unacknowledged by the collective medical leadership". However, heavy drinking is a risk factor for liver cancer and associated conditions, according to the ACS.
A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this week echoed these findings.