What is the Connection Between Alcohol and Liver Health?
Alcohol is America’s most popular addictive substance. But, alcohol and liver issues are quite common among heavy drinkers.
However, if you drink too much, you not only run the risk of developing an addiction, you also expose your liver to potentially catastrophic damage.
This is true because alcohol has a direct impact on how the liver functions.
Liver damage does not happen to heavy drinkers all at once.
Instead, it develops gradually over time.
If you seek help for your alcohol abuse as soon as possible, you can avoid the worst kinds of damage.
You can also limit the other severe consequences of this common form of addiction.
If you are a drinker, it is essential to understand the connection between alcohol and liver health.
Why? Drinking can have a harmful effect on this vital organ, even if you do not meet the definition of alcoholism.
If you drink heavily as a habit, you increase your chances of developing a severe, or even fatal, liver-related disease.
Alcohol and the Liver – The Basics
Why does alcohol affect how your liver works? First, alcohol is toxic to your body. If too much of it builds up in your system, you can die from alcohol poisoning. This means that your body must find some way to get rid of the alcoholic toxins. If this elimination process did not occur, you would not be able to drink any amount of an alcoholic substance without running into problems.
How does your body eliminate alcohol from your system? It relies on the liver. When you drink beer, wine, or liquor, your body starts to digest it. The toxic parts of alcohol eventually make it to your liver. There, they undergo a gradual breakdown.
However, your liver’s ability to break down alcohol is limited. If your consumption is higher than this organ can handle, you will overwhelm its capacity. When this happens, the toxins in alcohol will build up in your system — resulting in your liver having to overwork to rid the body of the toxins.
If you keep taxing your liver long enough over a period of time, it will start to lose its normal function. This is true whether or not you have diagnosable alcohol problems. However, the real danger begins when you take part in a long-term pattern of heavy drinking. This kind of ongoing, excessive consumption leaves you vulnerable to the worst possible forms of liver damage.
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Alcohol-Related Damage is Progressive
Heavy drinking has a progressive impact on the health of your liver. This means that damage to the organ gets worse over time. Doctors and public health experts have a name for this progressive process known as alcoholic liver disease. There are three stages to this disease, including fatty liver or hepatic steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Each of these conditions affects you in different ways.
Fatty Liver of Hepatic Steatosis
Fatty liver gets its name because the condition produces an abnormal buildup of fat inside your liver. This buildup makes your liver grow larger than usual. Some people with fatty liver experience no apparent symptoms. However, others experience things such as:
- Unexplained fatigue
- Uncomfortable feelings in the upper right abdomen
The majority of heavy drinkers will eventually develop a fatty liver if they do not stop using alcohol. If you are affected by this condition, it may go away if you halt your drinking and lose weight.
Hepatitis is the name for any significant inflammation within your liver tissue. In people with alcoholic hepatitis, this liver inflammation is widespread. Other symptoms of the condition include:
- Fatty liver
- Liver cell death, also known as necrosis
In addition, some affected people have symptoms of cirrhosis. Roughly 10% to 35% of all long-term heavy drinkers will develop alcoholic hepatitis.
Cirrhosis is the most harmful form of alcoholic liver disease. It occurs when continued heavy drinking leads to scarring inside your liver. This scarring permanently reduces the organ’s ability to function. If cirrhosis advances far enough, it can cause your liver to fail altogether. This is a dire health emergency. Additionally, some people with cirrhosis also develop liver cancer. Between one and two out of every 10 heavy drinkers will go on to develop cirrhosis.
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Alcohol and Liver Damage – How Much Do You Have to Drink?
You are probably wondering how much alcohol you need to drink to damage your liver. Your liver can eliminate 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol in a standard drink in about an hour. This is the equivalent of:
- One 12-ounce serving of beer
- Eight or nine ounces of malt liquor
- One five-ounce glass of wine
- A 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor
Problems begin when you make a habit of exceeding this level of consumption by large amounts. Signs of liver disease may start to appear after a decade or more of drinking the following:
- Two to eight beers a day
- Three to six servings of wine a day
- Three to six servings of hard liquor a day
If you consume alcohol in even heavier amounts, you run a higher risk of developing cirrhosis. Cirrhosis risks rise along with your level of consumption and duration of hard-drinking. For example, if you drink for 20 years or more, you have roughly a 50% chance of developing cirrhosis if you drink more than:
- Roughly 36 beers a day
- About 18 glasses of wine a day
- Approximately 18 shots of hard liquor a day
These might seem like incredibly high amounts. But unfortunately, some heavy drinkers consume at least this much alcohol on a regular basis.
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Limit the Harm with Alcohol Rehab
Not everyone who drinks heavily is addicted to alcohol. This does not mean that non-addicted people cannot be problem drinkers. In fact, you can receive a diagnosis for alcohol problems even if you are not considered an alcoholic. This happens when your non-addicted alcohol abuse seriously damages your day-to-day life.
If you are caught up in a cycle of alcohol abuse, you have many reasons for getting help. Those reasons include avoidance or preventing the long-term effects of abuse/addiction itself. They also include avoidance of progressive liver damage.
For anyone affected by alcoholism, alcohol rehab typically begins with enrollment in a detox program. Detox helps you stop drinking. It also provides medication and support that allows you to cope with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Once your time in detox is done, you are ready for the main phase of rehab, which is active treatment. The assistance you receive during active treatment will reinforce your short-term ability to stop drinking. It will also help you learn how to make lasting changes in your life that support long-term sobriety.
Learn More About Alcohol and Liver Damage
If you have been drinking heavily for a long time, you are at risk of damaging your liver. In its early stages, alcohol-related liver disease can sometimes be reversed. However, over time, you may develop irreversible damage in this vital organ. No one wants to face these kinds of severe, avoidable health complications.
Before alcohol can affect you in such drastic ways, seek help in an alcohol recovery program. An effective program makes it possible for you to abandon heavy drinking and get sober. It also makes it possible for you to make sobriety an ongoing priority of your daily routine.
If you already suffer from liver damage, rehab is still the best way to limit the harm to your body. Along with providing the right kind of medical treatment, your recovery program will help stabilize your health. It will also help and protect you from even greater physical and mental harm.
For more information on alcohol and liver damage, contact Pathfinders today. We are also your source for trusted information on alcohol abuse and addiction. In addition, we provide top-quality services for all kinds of alcohol use problems.
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