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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – An alarming number of Americans have died from liver disease and liver cancer since 2009, and excessive drinking may be to blame, according to a report by HealthDay.

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The results published in The BMJ this week reveal that there was an increase of 25- to 34-year-olds who died from cirrhosis, a disease caused by excessive drinking. Researchers say the economic downturn in 2008 may have prompted people to comfort themselves with alcohol.

Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring of the liver caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcoholism, according to the Mayo Clinic. Cirrhosis occurs in response to damage to your liver.

Lead researcher Dr. Elliot Tapper tells HealthDay that while young people are dying from alcohol-related cirrhosis, older people are dying from liver cancer and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

“These are deaths of despair,” Tapper, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at the University of Michigan, told HealthDay.

The conditions affecting older people are most likely due to the obesity epidemic, he suggested.

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Tapper and his team examined death certificates for nearly 600,000 U.S. adults.

Between 1999 and 2016, deaths from cirrhosis increased by 65 percent (from about 20,600 in 1999 to nearly 34,200 in 2016). Deaths from liver cancer doubled (from more than 5,100 to nearly 11,100) during the same time period.

Researchers say men had nearly twice as many deaths from cirrhosis compared to women and almost four times as many from liver cancer.

From 2009 to 2016, people aged 25 to 34 had the highest annual increase in cirrhosis deaths — nearly 11 percent.

The greatest increase in deaths from cirrhosis was seen among whites, Native Americans and Hispanics, the researchers said.

Deaths from cirrhosis and liver cancer rose fastest in western and southern states. Only Maryland saw a significant decrease in cirrhosis deaths, researchers say.

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