The recently published results of a 15-year study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that the prevalence of alcoholic liver disease is increasing in America.

What Is Alcohol-Related Liver Disease?

Alcoholic liver disease is a spectrum of many conditions, including:

The first stage of liver disease in many people is ALFD. In AFLD, fat gets deposited in the liver cells. This fat can then harm the liver cells. Most people who drink heavily over a long time will develop AFLD. Some people will go on to develop other serious liver problems related to drinking.

Unfortunately, AFLD itself has very few symptoms. The main AFLD symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Having discomfort in your upper right abdomen

Increase in Cases of Advanced AFLD

The doctors who ran the JAMA study focused on looking at rates of ALFD over time, from 2001 to 2016. They found that, overall, the total number of people with ALFD stayed relatively stable, at around 4.7% of adults. There were no changes over time in the sex, race, ethnicity or age of people with ALFD.

However, the doctors also found that there was an increase in the number of people with advanced AFLD. Specifically, the doctors saw an increase in the number of people with ALFD in stage two and stage three fibrosis.

This finding concerns the doctors because fibrosis is a sign that the alcoholic liver disease may continue to worsen. In fibrosis, the liver’s blood flow lessens and scar tissue builds up. Over time, ALFD can progress to cirrhosis and liver cancer, which can be fatal.

This study aligns with the findings of other doctors. Doctors recently learned that from 1999 to 2016, there was a 65% increase in the number of people with cirrhosis. White Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans were found to be at the highest risk of dying from cirrhosis.

Further, the number of people who died from liver cancer doubled between these years. Young people from the ages of 25 to 34 were at the highest risk of these complications of alcoholic liver disease.

Binge Drinking Is the Culprit in Many Cases

While studies have not found the exact cause for the increase in deaths, doctors know that it is related to alcohol use. Further, doctors suspect that it may be due to recent increases in binge drinking, especially among young people. Binge drinking is known to increase the levels of some chemicals that doctors think are involved in alcoholic liver disease.

Binge drinking has a few different definitions. However, the U.S. government generally defines it as four drinks for women and five drinks for men within two hours.

Studies have found that young people are most likely to engage in binge drinking. Studies have also found that binge drinking, especially when done repeatedly and often, is linked to a high risk of liver damage. Doctors think this fact is especially true when the person already has other risk factors for liver disease, such as obesity.

Other potential side effects of binge drinking include:

Can Advanced AFLD Be Treated?

Doctors will likely continue to study possible links between young people, binge drinking, and AFLD. However, advanced AFLD is treatable, and people who struggle with this condition do have options for treatment. Because the primary treatment for AFLD is to quit drinking alcohol, it is important for young people struggling with drinking to seek help as soon as possible. If drinking continues, the liver may be irreversibly damaged.

If you or someone you know struggles with alcohol use, help is available. Our trained professionals at The Recovery Village are here to help you lead a healthier life without alcohol. Contact us today to learn more.