GROWING numbers of people are developing liver disease in their 20s and 30s because of heavy boozing, according to new research.
A rise in alcohol abuse, including binge drinking, is fuelling a worrying increase in liver disease at a younger age.
The rate of death and illness due to liver disease in all age groups has soared by 190pc in just 13 years, with a particular rise in younger age groups.
The grim toll our booze culture is taking on health is revealed by Health Research Board researchers in the journal 'Alcohol and Alcoholism'.
They found the rate of liver disease and deaths went from 28.3 per 100,000 adults in 1995 to 82.2 in 2007.
Although the increase in disease in the younger age group comes from a low base, it is of serious concern.
The number of patients treated in hospital for liver disease increased over the same period, by 247pc for 15- to 34-year-olds and by 224pc for 35- to 49-year-olds.
The majority of the patients were male (70pc) but there was a higher proportion of females in the youngest age group.
The death rate among adults hospitalised with liver disease was 2.6 per 100,000 in 1995 but it rose to 7.1 in 2007, an increase of 173pc.
The research, led by Deirdre Mongan, pointed out that this did not include those with liver disease who may have died outside of the public hospital system -- so the real toll could be higher.
"These results indicate that there has been a genuine increase in the occurrence of and mortality from adult liver disease, and this is consistent with an increase in per capita consumption and harmful drinking patterns," she said.
The researchers say the trend among younger age groups is worrying "but is not surprising as survey data has shown that 18- to 29-year-old drinkers have the highest level of alcohol consumption among Irish drinkers and two-fifths binge drink weekly".
They pointed out that people in Ireland were also starting to drink at a younger age, compared with older generations .
Recent school survey data has shown that 47pc of 17-year-olds had their first alcoholic drink at the age of 14 or under, while 74pc had been drunk at least once.
Referring to the significant number of younger women treated for liver disease, the researchers said it was not surprising as they "drink in a manner similar to males with harmful drinking patterns, including weekly binge drinking".
Seven in 10 of those who died of liver disease were under 65, highlighting the link between the condition and premature mortality.
Researchers said: "The introduction of effective policy measures to reduce overall per capita alcohol consumption and harmful drinking patterns in Ireland is urgently required."