Young Americans are drinking themselves to death at a ‘disturbing’ rate, study says

Four men toasting with fresh beer
Four men toasting with fresh beer

From 1999 to 2016, liver disease deaths spiked in the United States — by 65 percent, according to a study from two University of Michigan professors.

And young Americans who drink are bearing the brunt of that trend, say the study’s authors, Elliot Tapper and Neehar Parikh.

The trend gained even more steam starting in 2009, a year after the start of what would be the longest period of economic decline in the United States since the Great Depression, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

But what is alarming health officials the most, is that young people seem to be drinking themselves to death at a higher rate than ever. For adults ages 25-34, the increase in deaths in those years has been driven entirely by alcohol-related liver disease.

We thought we would see improvements, but these data make it clear: even after hepatitis C, we will still have our work cut out for us,” Tapper, a member of the University of Michigan Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and health services researcher at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, told Science Daily. “Each alcohol-related death means decades of lost life, broken families and lost economic productivity. In addition, medical care of those dying from cirrhosis costs billions of dollars.”

Deaths of young adults due to liver failure rose by an average of 10.5 percent per year from 2009 to 2016, according to the study. Tapper and Parikh examined death certificates for nearly 600,000 adults from the Vital Statistics Cooperative and population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Tapper called the trend “disturbing” in a news release.

Actual deaths from cirrhosis rose from 20,661 in 1999 to 34,174 in 2016. Cirrhosis is defined by scarring of the liver, caused by long-term damage, from prolonged drinking, hepatitis C or what’s known as fatty liver disease.

Deaths from liver cancer more than doubled in the same time frame: from 5,112 in 1999 to 11,073 in 2016, according to the study. Just days before Tapper and Parikh’s study was released, the CDC released a report that said that from 2000 to 2016, deaths in adults 25 and older due to liver cancer spiked by 43 percent.

Prolonged, heavy drinking is a known cause of liver cancer as well.

A 2017 study called the increase in alcohol-use disorder and “high-risk” drinking from 2001-2013 a “public health crisis” for the United States.