Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Drinking, smoking and recreational drug use increases the risk for premature heart disease in young people, particularly younger women, an analysis published Monday by the journal Heart found.
Thirty-two percent of people who abused alcohol developed premature heart disease, compared with 15% of light drinkers, the data showed.
Sixty-three percent of smokers also were diagnosed with the condition, compared to 41% of non-smokers, and recreational drug users were up to four times as likely to develop premature heart disease than non-users.
The findings may help explain the recent rise in new cases of heart disease in young adults across the United States, researchers said.
"Despite their young age and a lower prevalence of chronic illnesses, the use of substances such as tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, amphetamine or cannabis confers a two- to three-fold increased risk of heart disease," study co-author Dr. Dhruv Mahtta told UPI.
"This risk increases in a dose-response fashion with increasing number of substances used and the overall magnitude of this risk is especially high among female users of these substances," said Mahtta, a researcher in the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Training Program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Roughly 4% of those diagnosed with heart disease nationally are adults age 18 to 44, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the frequency of what the Baylor researchers characterize as "extremely premature" heart-related events such as strokes in this population has increased by about 50% over the past 20 years, the CDC estimates.
For this study, the researchers analyzed data on more than 135,000 people with premature heart disease and nearly 8,000 with extremely premature heart disease, and compared it to approximately 1.1 million healthy adults.
They defined extremely premature heart disease as an "event" such as a heart attack, angina or stroke before age 40, while premature heart disease was defined as an event before age 55 in men and before age 65 in women.
Recreational use of any substance was independently associated with a higher likelihood of premature and extremely premature heart disease, the data showed.
In addition to smokers and heavy drinkers, 13% of cocaine cocaine users developed premature heart disease, compared to 3% of non-users.
Nearly 13% of marijuana users also developed the condition, compared to 3% of non-users.
And participants who regularly used four or more substances were nine times as likely to develop premature heart disease.
"[Heart] disease has often been understood as an ailment of advanced age," study co-author Dr. Salim S. Virani told UPI.
However, "the elevated risk attributable to the use of recreational substances [among young people] as demonstrated by our study is comparable to the risk of other illnesses -- lung cancer, liver cancer, alcoholic cirrhosis -- associated with recreational substances," said Virani, a professor of cardiovascular research at Baylor College of Medicine.