Liver Diseases Associated With Excessive Alcohol Use
We know that alcohol takes a toll on the liver, but why? The liver is the organ involved in the breakdown of alcohol, a process known as alcohol metabolism. When alcohol is metabolized, the body produces toxins that are more dangerous than the alcohol itself. The byproducts of alcohol metabolism can destroy liver cells and lead to liver disease. Liver disease is closely linked with alcohol use, as alcohol causes 4 out of 5 deaths from liver disease.
Liver Diseases Caused By Alcohol
The most common liver diseases caused by consistent alcohol ingestion include steatosis (fatty liver), hepatitis (inflamed liver), cirrhosis (scarred liver), and ultimately liver failure and death. Evidence shows a devastating yearly trend, indicating that U.S. deaths from alcohol-related liver disease are at the highest they’ve been since 1999. Since 2016 they have risen in every age, ethnic, and racial group.
Alcoholic Steatosis and Hepatitis
When the liver becomes overwhelmed by excess alcohol ingestion, fat accumulates, blocking normal function in a process called steatosis. Hepatitis is also fairly common in those who regularly consume alcohol; about 33% of drinkers with an already fatty liver will eventually experience mild or moderate liver inflammation. It can take time for the symptoms of steatosis and hepatitis to surface. An alcohol user may continue drinking without knowing that their liver health is suffering.
Acute alcoholic hepatitis has obviously unpleasant symptoms. Alcoholic hepatitis and acute alcoholic hepatitis symptoms usually include a loss of appetite, stomach pain, jaundice, liver failure, or even death. Unfortunately, statistics show that one out of every three people who suffer from acute alcoholic hepatitis will die as a result.
Alcoholic Cirrhosis of The Liver
Ingesting alcohol increases the chance of liver scarring, called cirrhosis. One out of every five heavy drinkers have a scarred liver. Cirrhosis is caused by frequent alcohol abuse because “alcohol changes the chemicals that break down and remove scar tissue. This means that scar tissue builds up in the liver.” Scar tissue accumulating in the liver keeps healthy cells from functioning normally. When the liver cells don’t work correctly, they can cause liver failure.
Cirrhosis of the liver does not typically present with symptoms right away, but it can cause severe scarring in some cases. Symptoms can include:
- Feeling uneasy
- Throwing up blood
- Blood in stools
- Bloating and swollen stomach
- Little to no appetite
- Intense itching
- Muscle cramps
If you have any symptoms of cirrhosis, you must avoid alcohol. The bad news is that there is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver. You can significantly increase your chances of survival and quality of life by abstaining from alcohol. While avoiding alcohol may not heal all liver disease, “fatty liver can be reversed and further damage avoided by not drinking alcohol.”
Lowering Your Risk of Liver Disease
Unfortunately, when a disease has symptoms that take time to appear, people don’t notice a problem until it’s too late and it can become fatal. This is why it is essential to maintain self-awareness about your drinking patterns and be honest about your alcohol consumption with your physician. When healthy, the liver removes toxic, disease-causing components from the body. The good news is that you can reduce your risk of liver disease by abstaining from alcohol or limiting the amount and frequency of consumption. All liver diseases have been shown to improve as a result of giving up alcohol.
In addition to removing alcohol from your life, there are ways to reduce the impact of liver disease, including:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding tobacco products
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a balanced diet
- Cutting out processed foods
- Drinking coffee
- Getting sunlight (low Vitamin D levels are bad for liver disease)
Our team at Boardwalk Recovery Center is intimately aware of the devastating effect alcohol has on the body, especially the liver. We strongly believe in the benefits of sobriety and its healing effects. Our staff will work with you to help heal your body and mind.