This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Robert Lefever, a world-leading addictions specialist.
Alcohol is widely consumed worldwide, with it being part of everyday culture. But we usually forget how dangerous it is health and wellbeing. Excessive consumption can cause severe damage to the human body. Most of you are aware of the euphoric phase followed by the depressive phase after consuming alcohol. Not only it affects your brain and heart, but it also imposes severe threats to your liver.
Damage to the liver in the early phases typically shows no or few symptoms that might be difficult to recognise an average person. So this article will help you know about all the liver diseases caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Most of the people that are suffering from liver diseases have alcohol dependence. For example, in 2016, in England, there were about 5,507 alcohol-specific deaths, and alcoholic liver diseases accounted for about 82%.
To save yourself and the lives of your loved ones, you can call help4addiction at any time on the number 02039557700. We are available 24/7 for help.
What is the liver?
The liver is known as the largest internal organ of our body. A healthy liver weighs around 1.5 kg and is 13-15cm in width. It is located in the upper right quadrant of our abdomen. Moreover, it holds vital importance for the proper functioning of our bodies. But, excessive consumption of alcohol can damage our liver, hindering it from performing its critical functions. It can also lead to serious complications, which can even threaten our life.
What are the functions of the liver?
The most well-known functions of the liver are as follows:
- Conversion of the toxic products into non-toxic substances, i.e. conversion of ammonia into urea which is safe to excrete
- Production of the bile for the digestion of the food
- Regulation of the clotting factors in the blood
- Conversion of the excess glucose into the glycogen (storage form for energy)
- Production of the immune factors for preventing infections and removal of the bacteria from the blood
You may have noticed that all these functions hold great significance for the well-being of the human body. Unfortunately, however, a large intake of alcohol can excessively disturb the normal functions of the liver.
How does alcohol damage the liver?
The liver tries to process most of the alcohol consumed. But it has a limited capacity. It can filter a certain amount of alcohol in a particular span of time. When somebody consumes a large amount of alcohol, it becomes difficult for the liver to process it. It ultimately leads to an increase in alcohol in the bloodstream, thus affecting the brain and heart. So the toxic products of the alcohol damage the liver cells and put a strain on the liver.
The initial damage appears as inflammation of the liver, which progresses to fibrosis then cirrhosis. Ultimately,f preventive measures are not taken, it will lead to end-stage liver disease. Therefore, liver diseases caused by alcohol are mainly classified by the extent of the damage to the liver.
Alcohol fatty liver disease
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is the initial stage of liver damage. It is also known as fatty steatosis in medical terms. It indicates that you are consuming alcohol to a dangerous level. In this disease, your liver cells build up extra fat. It causes inflammation of your liver cells. Thus, the liver becomes weak and unable to remove the toxic products efficiently.
The dilemma of this stage is that it shows no symptoms. Therefore, it is prevalent that many people are unaware of their diseased condition. However, this condition can be corrected by temporarily restricting the consumption of alcohol for some weeks.
Alcoholic hepatitis is the further worsening of the liver cells resulting in their necrosis and fibrosis. It is unrelated to infectious hepatitis. This disease develops slowly over many years of alcohol consumption. Or it might develop in a shorter duration of time if a more significant amount of alcohol is consumed. This condition of consuming excessive alcohol is also known as binge drinking.
Alcohol hepatitis can be permanent, and abstaining from alcohol is necessary to alleviate its symptoms. It also requires a proper medical investigation by your General practitioner. If proper preventive measures are not adopted, it can lead to end-stage liver disease.
The final stage of liver damage by the continuous overconsumption of alcohol is cirrhosis. It is the irreversible stage that needs proper care by a designated medical officer. Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver cells which means the liver cannot perform its functions properly.
In the case of alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis can develop in 1 or 2 years if alcohol consumption is not abandoned permanently.
What are the symptoms of liver disease?
Most of the patients with liver disease related to alcohol show the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal discomfort
- Weight loss
- Blood in vomit or stool
The adverse symptoms may also include these:
- Portal Hypertension
- Oesophagal varices
- Carcinoma of the liver
During the early phase of the disease, no or very few symptoms appear, and they are usually more prominent in the later stages of the disease. So, it is like a hanging sword for the people who are alcohol dependent.
How much alcohol does it take to damage your liver?
The standard for the moderate drinking of alcohol by the centre for disease control and prevention (CDC) is:
- One drink per day for women
- Two drinks per day for men
By NHS UK, it is advised to men or women not to drink more than 14 units a week.
The amount of alcohol also varies depending upon the nature of the alcohol product we are consuming. For instance, liquor has a greater concentration of alcohol as compared to beer. But consumption of 2 or 3 drinks per day for a more extended period can damage the liver, and 4 to 5 drinks in case of binge drinking can enormously increase the strain on the liver.
If you or any of your loved ones are alcohol-dependent and are concerned about health, call 0203 955 7700 and start a consultation.
What are the risk factors for liver disease?
Many risk factors increase the vulnerability to liver diseases related to alcohol.
- Consumption of excessive amount of alcohol for more extended periods
- Binge drinking makes you prone to liver diseases.
- Genetics also play an essential role as alcohol dependence run in some families, making them more prone to liver diseases.
- Gender also creates a difference because females are more vulnerable to diseases caused by alcohol consumption.
- Overweight people are also at greater risk.
- People who are already suffering from hepatitis or any other kind of liver disease.
What are the treatment guidelines for liver disease from alcohol abuse?
The most critical step in treating liver diseases from alcohol is to help the patient stop drinking. And another step in the treatment of the damaged liver through medications and supplements.
Medication: In the advanced stages of the disease, getting treatment from certified medical practitioners is necessary.
Supplements: Heavy drinkers are usually low in vitamin A and Vitamin-B complexes that can cause anaemia and malnutrition. So, proper supplements should be used while treating liver diseases.
Nutrition: Proper diet and nutrients also play a significant role in the well-being of patients with liver diseases.
Exercise: Obesity makes you more prone to liver disease from alcohol. So, to live a healthy life, it becomes mandatory for individuals to indulge in regular exercise.
Self-help groups and organisations: Many groups and organisations help people to overcome their addictions. Such organisations allow people to fight alcohol dependence to live an alcohol-free life.
Liver transplant: In the advanced stage of disease, when the damage is irreversible, then for the survival of the person, it becomes mandatory to get a liver transplant. So, it is essential to have a proper insight into the side effects of excessive alcohol consumption for every individual consuming it.
How are diagnoses of liver disease from alcohol made?
In the early stages, liver disease usually goes unnoticed. This is because it can be only detected while performing other medical tests related to the liver.
Blood tests are not specific for liver damage, but they can tell about the decreased amount of particular proteins and clotting factors exclusively synthesised by the liver.
Increased Levels of Aspartate transaminase (AST) and Alanine transaminase (ALT) are indicators of liver damage. They are also known as Liver function tests.
For the advanced stages of liver diseases, screening tests are used to know the precise location and extent of the damage. The screening imaging tests include:
- Ultrasound scan
- Computed tomography scan (CT scan)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
These tests give detailed information about the condition of the damaged liver.
A liver biopsy is performed under local anaesthesia in which a small piece of your liver is extracted for microscopic examination. It gives detailed information about the level of scarring of the liver. There are commonly three types of liver biopsy:
- Percutaneous liver biopsy
- Transjugular biopsy
- Laparoscopic liver biopsy
Endoscopy is performed in case of liver diseases of the oesophagus and stomach. It is used to look for the vein varies because it is the sign of cirrhosis.
Overconsumption of alcohol causes many diseases related to the liver, which can be threatening to our lives. So, we should be careful while drinking alcohol because it can pose a danger to the normal functioning of our bodies.
If you are reading this, you or any of your loved ones might be suffering from alcohol dependence. help4addiction is one call away from you. The services are provided 24/7 for rehabilitation so that everybody can live a healthy life. You just have to enter your number on the website, the addiction counsellor will call you back. Or you can call 02039557700.
Frequently Asked questions
What are the first signs of liver damage from alcohol?
● Loss of appetite
● Weight loss
● Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the eyes)
● Nausea and vomiting
● Abdominal discomfort
● Mental confusion and dizziness
What are the three stages of alcoholic liver disease?
Fatty liver disease:
In this stage, fat accumulates in the liver cells, thus causing inflammation. In addition, the liver cannot eradicate the toxins produced from different sources in the body, thus straining itself.
It is not similar to hepatitis caused by the virus. Instead, it develops due to the fibrosis of the liver cells. At this stage, it is vital to abstain from alcohol permanently. Otherwise, it is very difficult to save the person from the results of this disease.
It is the scarring of the liver tissues. And the strain on the liver is so enormous that it can result in associated diseases like portal hypertension, ascites, or carcinoma of the liver.
Can you reverse liver damage from alcoholism?
What happens after two weeks of no alcohol?
What are the signs that your liver is struggling?
-Nausea and vomiting
-Abdominal discomfort in the upper right quadrant
What illnesses can alcohol cause?
- Alcohol-induced liver damage
- National Institute on Alcohol abuse and alcoholism
- Alcoholic liver disease
- How alcohol affects the liver
- [Health Risks of Alcohol] (https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/addiction-heavy-drinking#:~:text=Alcohol can kill liver cells%2C and lead to the liver doesn’t work as well as it should.)
- Alcohol-related liver disease
- Alcoholic liver disease: Symptoms, treatment, and causes
Liver diseases from alcohol are prevalent among heavy drinkers. For example, 90% of the people who heavily drink develop fatty liver disease, 25% develop alcoholic hepatitis and 15% progress to liver cirrhosis.