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Alcohol and the Liver

Frequent alcohol abuse can lead to long-term liver damage. Not drinking alcohol can reverse some of these effects.

Alcohol and Liver Damage

Man drinking beerThere 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.

Heavy drinkers have an increased risk of jaundice, cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.

Limiting your alcohol consumption to one or two drinks per day can help prevent liver damage. Outpatient and inpatient treatment for alcohol addiction can make quitting easier.

How Alcohol Affects the Liver

The liver breaks down and filters out harmful substances in the body. 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.

The liver processes over 90 percent of consumed alcohol. The rest exits the body via urine, sweat and breathing.

It takes the body approximately an hour to process one alcoholic beverage. This time frame increases with each drink. The higher someone’s blood alcohol content, the longer it takes to process alcohol.

The liver can only process a certain amount of alcohol at a time. When someone has too much to drink, the alcohol left unprocessed by the liver circulates through the bloodstream. The alcohol in the blood starts affecting the heart and brain, which is how people become intoxicated.

Chronic alcohol abuse causes destruction of liver cells, which results in scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), alcoholic hepatitis and cellular mutation that may lead to liver cancer.

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Symptoms of Liver Disease

Heavy drinkers face a higher risk of developing a range of liver diseases opposed to moderate drinkers. As many as 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop fatty liver disease, which leads to more serious complications down the road. Alcoholic hepatitis, inflammation that causes liver degeneration, can further develop into cirrhosis and may even be fatal.

People who regularly abuse alcohol have a compounded risk of developing 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
  • Swelling in legs
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Discolored stool
  • Unusual bruising
  • Fatigue

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 Alcoholism

Liver damage can be reversible if you stop drinking. If you have an alcohol addiction and symptoms of liver damage, it’s important to find help as soon as possible.

Over 10 percent of people suffering from alcoholism have cirrhosis, but the overwhelming majority of those with this disease survive if they seek treatment for their addiction.

Treatment centers across the country offer safe alcohol detox and empower you to take back control over your life. Get help finding a treatment center now.

Sources & Author Last Edited: January 22, 2016

  1. American Liver Foundation. (2015). Alcohol-Related Liver Disease. Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from: http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/alcohol/
  2. U.S. National Library of Public Medicine. (2012). How Does the Liver Work? Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072577/
  3. American Heart Association. (2015). Alcohol and Heart Health. Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Alcohol-and-Heart-Health_UCM_305173_Article.jsp
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2004). The Epidemiology of Alcoholic Liver Disease. Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-3/209-219.htm
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2007). Alcohol Metabolism: An Update. Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA72/AA72.htm
  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. FAQs about Alcoholic Liver Disease. Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/gastroenterology_hepatology/diseases_conditions/faqs/alcoholic_liver_disease.html
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