As alcohol-related liver disease rises in the U.S., a clinic takes a new approach to treatment


Austin Johnson was 29 years old when his liver was so damaged that his doctors feared he would die from heavy drinking.

For years, he put away about a bottle of wine every night to soothe his mental anguish. Everything in his life revolved around drinking.

“It was normal for me, coming home after work, getting drunk, getting drunk and calling friends. Getting drunk and playing video games,” “It was to the point where I would fall asleep with the bottle in my hand. When I drank enough the pain literally went away.”

Then he started feeling sick, and not just from the hangover. He was vomiting profusely and coughing up blood, early signs of liver damage. His doctor ran a blood test, and the results were terrifying.

“They said, ‘How are you still walking? You need to go to an emergency room right now,'” Johnson recalled.

Cirrhosis or severe liver disease was something. That mostly affected middle-aged or elderly people. Increasingly, alcohol-related liver disease is killing younger people in the United States

Johnson is part of a disturbing trend of men and women aged 25 to 34 suffering serious, and sometimes fatal, liver damage from their drinking. A 2018 study reported that between 2009 and 2016, deaths attributable to alcohol-related. Cirrhosis — the scarring of organs that can cause it to fail over time — rose steadily. With the largest increase among people in that age group.

The pandemic made it worse. Between 2017 and 2020, the number of deaths from alcohol-related liver disease continued to rise. With an acceleration during the first year of the coronavirus. Wccording to a report published in March 2022 in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Death rates increased each year for both sexes. Although more men were still dying than women, the annual death rate was rising faster for women (37%) than for men (29%), according to the report. Which compiled data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Centers for Health. Statistics.

There are many possible reasons. From economic uncertainty to isolation during the pandemic to underlying trauma. The researchers said. Another reason could be that drinks have gotten stronger and people are “drinking more per unit volume,” Dr. Elliott Tapper. A liver disease specialist and gastroenterology specialist at Michigan Medical School. In Ann Arbor, old NBC News.

Liver damage caused by excessive drinking can be treated, but it may not save the patient’s life if alcohol is still in the picture. That’s why Dr. Jessica Mellinger. Aliver specialist, and doctors at the University of Michigan Medical School. Shere Mellinger is an assistant professor. Have developed a new type of program that combines urgent medical care for liver disease with mental health and addiction care.

“We’re definitely seeing younger and younger patients. With advanced liver disease that we previously thought. W

As of 2018, Mellinger and doctors at the Michigan Alcohol Improvement Program provide psychiatric. And addiction services to patients. With liver disease. Early clinical research suggests that this approach is successful in preventing relapse.

“We showed that health care utilization, how much [patients] were hospitalized How much they used the emergency room. All went down” in the six months before and during the six months after patients entered the program. Said Dr. Scott Winder. Aprogram psychiatrist and an associate professor. At the University of Michigan Medical School “We showed that. Health

care utilization, how much [patients] were hospitalized. How much they used the emergency room. All went down,” between the six months before patients entered the program and the six months after, Winder said.

There needs to be a really thoughtful

Addiction specialists not affiliated. With the Michigan program say seeing a patient with a psychiatrist. An addiction specialist and a liver specialist can give patients more motivation.

Just telling patients they have severe liver disease. And will die if they don’t stop drinking isn’t good enough. Haid Dr. Henry Kranzler, Benjamin Rush Professor of Psychiatry. And director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School. of medicine

“There needs to be a really thoughtful and coordinated plan,” Kranzler said.

For example, the quit message becomes stronger w “It’s more motivating because it’s more real than saying in a vague way, if you stop, things will get better.”

Dr. Shreya Sengupta, a gastroenterologist who trained at the University of Michigan. . Where he specializes in hepatology and liver transplantation.

“We try to address substance abuse disorders and liver disease. At the same time,” says Sengupta. Medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Diseases. And Surgery Institute’s Multidisciplinary Alcohol Program.

Fortunately, for younger patients, if they stop drinking alcohol. Liver function is more likely to fully recover, Tapper said.

Johnson has stopped drinking and hopes for a healthy future. The yellow color of his skin and eyes – signs of severe liver disease – disappeared.

“You either stay on the ground or you can do something about it,” he said. “They guided me in the right direction to take steps in my recovery.”

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