There are many health risks of chronic alcohol abuse, ranging from high blood pressure to stroke. People are most familiar with alcohol’s negative effects on the liver.
The definition of heavy drinking is consuming eight drinks or more per week for women, and 15 or more for men. Even a single binge-drinking episode can result in significant bodily impairment, damage, or potentially death.
The liver breaks down most of the alcohol you drink so that it can be removed from the body. This creates substances that are even more harmful than alcohol. These substances can damage liver cells and cause serious liver disease.
Alcohol causes 4 out of 5 deaths from liver disease.
Types of liver disease caused by alcohol include:
- fatty liver (steatosis)
- inflammation of the liver (hepatitis)
- acute alcoholic hepatitis
- scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)
- liver failure and death
How Alcohol Affects the Liver
The liver breaks down and filters out harmful substances in the blood, and manufactures proteins, enzymes, and hormones that the body uses to ward off infections. It also converts vitamins, nutrients, and medicines into substances that our bodies can use. The liver is also responsible for cleaning our blood, producing bile for digestion, and storing glycogen for energy.
Symptoms of Liver Disease
Heavy drinkers face a higher risk of developing a range of liver diseases as opposed to moderate drinkers. As many as 20 percents of heavy drinkers develop fatty liver disease, although fatty liver disease is typically reversible with abstinence. Alcoholic hepatitis, inflammation that causes liver degeneration, can further develop into cirrhosis and may even be fatal. However, this too is reversible with abstinence.
People who regularly abuse alcohol have a compounded risk of developing the liver disease if they develop an infection or are genetically predisposed to liver problems. Those consuming more than two drinks on a daily basis put themselves at risk for liver disease.
Common symptoms of liver disease include:
- Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling in legs and ankles
- Dark urine
- Nausea or vomiting
- Itchy skin
- Discolored stool
- The tendency to bruise easily
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Pale, bloody, or tar-colored stool
Liver disease caused by alcohol is avoidable. Most reputable sources cite moderate alcohol consumption as one drink per day for women and two for men. In general, there isn’t a type of alcoholic beverage, whether it be beer, liquor, or wine, that is “safer” for the liver.
Treatment for Liver Disease and Alcoholism
Many forms of liver damage can be reversible if you stop drinking or take other steps.
- Fatty Liver disease –Reversible with abstinence
- Alcoholic Hepatitis –Reversible with abstinence
- Cirrhosis –Abstinence is helpful, however, it is usually fatal due to secondary complications, such as kidney failure or hypertension in the vein carrying blood to the liver. It could stabilize with abstinence but is case-by-case sensitive.
- Liver Cancer –Same as cirrhosis
If you have an alcohol addiction and symptoms of liver damage, it’s important to find help as soon as possible.
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