Alcohol’s Effect On The Liver

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Alcohol's Effect On The Liver

Alcohol affects most areas of the brain and several major organ systems. Apart from alcohol’s immediate impact on multiple regions of the brain, the liver is the organ most directly affected by alcohol consumption. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to several diseases relating to the liver, including alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, alcoholic cirrhosis, and cancer of the liver.

Tens of thousands of people die each year from alcohol-related liver disease. The effects of heavy drinking are indiscriminate; you don’t have to be addicted to alcohol to suffer these and other consequences of heavy drinking (30 percent of those suffering from alcohol-related liver disease are not addicted to alcohol). A heavy drinker is a man who consumes more than two drinks a day, or a woman who consumes more than one per day.

Why Does Alcohol Damage The Liver?

The liver serves many functions, but it’s primary role is to break down and filter toxins within the bloodstream from the digestive tract. The liver is also capable of metabolizing substances, like alcohol. Alcohol cannot be stored in the body, so the liver attempts to quickly to breakit down and excrete it. Though an efficient organ for detoxifying the body, people typically consume more alcohol than the third of an ounce the liver can process in an hour.

The liver releases enzymes based on the quantities of alcohol consumed in a given period. These enzymes break down alcohol into the toxin acetaldehyde and then again into the less harmful acetate. However, during this phase of oxidation, acetaldehyde, even in small amounts can produce considerable harm, damaging liver cells and tissues.

Acetaldehyde is a highly reactive molecule and when produced in larger quantities, these molecules can bind with proteins within the bloodstream and liver. This can generate an autoimmune response, causing white cells to attack otherwise healthy liver cells.

Likewise, the toxin acetaldehyde destroys the DNA of healthy neighboring cells, which can increase a person’s risk of developing a malignancy. Approximately 4 percent of all cancers in the United States relate directly to alcohol consumption.

Fibrosis of the Liver

Fibrosis of the liver–or severe scarring–is thought to be caused in part by the same byproducts of alcohol oxidation mentioned earlier, which may increase collagen production. The production of collagen in the liver results in scarring that is irreversible.

Another byproduct of the alcohol metabolic process is the presence of free radicals, or oxygen-containing molecule fragments. These free radicals are generated in large quantities when alcohol is consumed and can affect liver cells directly, causing cell death.

Additional stress on the liver from alcohol comes from bacteria. Consuming alcohol (even for those who drink socially) can cause a leaky gut, releasing otherwise contained bacteria into the liver, generating additional stress and inflammation.

Symptoms Of  Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

The challenging aspect of liver disease comes from the fact that this damage goes largely unnoticed by those affected until much damage has already been done. Early symptoms can include fatigue, gastrointestinal upset, or stomach pain and can easily be dismissed for illness. As the disease progresses, more noticeable symptoms begin to emerge, including a yellowing of the skin or jaundice, a loss of appetite, vomiting with blood present, unusual swelling of abdomen and lower extremities, and changes in how your body responds to alcohol. As liver disease progresses, the body is no longer able to process alcohol the way it had previously, leading to an increased sensitivity to this and other substances.

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Symptoms Of Liver Disease:

  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Stomach pain or achiness
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blood present in vomit
  • Unusual swelling of abdomen and lower extremities
  • Changes in sensitivity to alcohol

Factors That Increase Your Risk Of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

There are a number of factors that contribute to an increased risk of developing liver disease. These include alcohol addiction, excess weight, and genetic predisposition. Women also metabolize alcohol at a much slower rate than men, so women tend to be at a higher risk of alcohol-related liver disease. Also smoking one pack of cigarettes or more or consuming four or more cups of coffee per day also increase your risk of developing liver disease.

Alcohol Treatment And Liver Transplants

Heavy alcohol abuse reduces the average lifespan by 30 years. Damage to the liver, in some cases, requires a liver transplant. However, most often–in cases where someone is currently drinking–a donor liver will be denied. Therefore, treatment for alcohol addiction is vital.

Treatment for alcohol addiction requires medical monitoring and management of associated withdrawal symptoms. A comprehensive treatment plan will assess and address the addiction, associated health issues, co-occurring mental disorders, related past traumas, and help you develop a long-term strategy in achieving and maintaining sobriety.

Your Life And Liver Depend On Treatment For Alcohol Addiction

Contact and begin a new and rewarding life in recovery.If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, is your online resources for the professional support and comprehensive, evidence-based treatment options best suited to meet your individual needs. Don’t wait. Contact and begin a new and rewarding life in recovery.

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