Austin Johnson’s liver had been severely damaged by the time he was 29 due to constant drinking, and his physicians feared he would pass away.
He had been drinking almost a full bottle of alcohol every night for years to numb his inner pain. Drinking was the center of his universe.
In the words of Johnson, now 33, “It was typical to me, coming home after work, getting drunk, ringing buddies up intoxicated, playing video games drunk.” It got to the point where I would doze off while holding the bottle. When I drank enough, the agony literally vanished.
Then, he began to feel ill—and not only because of hangovers. He was coughing up blood and vomiting a lot, which are signs of early liver injury. Blood tests were performed by his doctor, and the outcomes were alarming.
“How are you still walking, they questioned. You must immediately visit an emergency room,” Johnson thought back. Johnson is a part of a troubling trend where men and women between the ages of 25 and 34 are suffering from serious, and occasionally fatal, liver disease as a result of their drinking. According to a 2018 study, mortality linked to alcohol-related cirrhosis, which is the scarring of the organ that can eventually lead to its failure, increased sharply among people in that age bracket between 2009 and 2016.
It became worse due to the pandemic. According to a paper published in March 2022 in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, alcohol-associated liver disease fatalities increased between 2017 and 2020, with an acceleration during the first year of the coronavirus.
Once more, young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 saw a high increase, particularly among women.
Each year, the death rate increased for both sexes. The analysis, which used information from the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that although there were still more men dying than women, the yearly mortality rate was increasing for women (37%) rather than men (29%).
According to academics, there are a variety of possible factors, including underlying trauma, pandemic isolation, and economic uncertainty. Dr. Elliot Tapper, a gastrointestinal expert and liver disease specialist at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, told NBC News that another explanation could be that beverages have grown stronger and people are “drinking more per unit volume.”
However, if alcohol is still present, treatment for a patient’s liver impairment won’t be able to save their life. The University of Michigan Medical School, where Dr. Jessica Mellinger is an assistant professor and a liver specialist, created a novel kind of program that combines acute medical care for liver disease with mental health and addiction treatment for this reason.
According to Mellinger, “We’re seeing younger and younger patients coming in with what we used to think was advanced liver disease observed in patients only in their middle age, 50s, and 60s.”
Since 2018, individuals with the liver illness have had access to psychiatrists and addiction specialists thanks to Mellinger and the medical staff at the Michigan Alcohol Improvement program. Early studies conducted at the clinic indicate that this strategy is effective in reducing relapse.
According to Dr. Scott Winder, a program psychiatrist and associate professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, “we showed that health care utilization, how much [patients] got admitted to the hospital, and how much they use the emergency room, all decreased” between the six months before the patients came to the program and the six months after.
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