Per-capita alcohol consumption in Britain doubled between 1960 and 2004, and deaths from cirrhosis have increased dramatically over the past two decades. According to government statistics, cirrhosis death rates in England and Wales have more than doubled, from 8.3 per 100,000 in 1987 to 17.5 per 100,000 in 2002. In Scotland, the rate nearly tripled, from 16.9 per 100,000 to 45.2 per 100,000 during the same period. The rate in the U.S. was 9 per 100,000 in 2004.
Chronic alcoholism and the hepatitis C virus are the main causes of cirrhosis. Excessive alcohol intake kills healthy liver cells, leaving scar tissue that cannot regenerate itself. Once the liver starts to fail, a domino-like chain reaction is set off, often leading to kidney, heart and circulatory failure. If the disease goes undiagnosed, you can go from being entirely well to being in the intensive care unit with multiple organ failure in six to eight weeks. Obviously, for serious drinkers, it’s never too soon to change one’s ways and get into alcohol rehab.
Inexpensive alcohol and easy access have been blamed for the problem, as well as an easy attitude toward social drinking. At British pubs, for example, it is customary for every member of a social group to buy a round of drinks. The cultural acceptance of excessive social drinking may be one of the reasons more people don’t seek an alcohol rehab program sooner. Also, unlike other countries, drinking in Britain doesn’t usually go hand in hand with eating, which is generally seen as a buffer that helps the body handle the alcohol.
U.K. doctors are now treating men and women in their 20s and 30s for cirrhosis, a disease that once mainly affected men in their 60s. Because symptoms can be nonspecific, including routine-seeming fatigue and sexual problems, many people may not realize they have liver problems until the damage is irreversible. By then, it’s often too late to regain one’s health. Getting into a good alcohol rehab program can’t happen too soon.
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