Alcohol has toxic effects on your liver that can worsen over time. The effects can even have fatal consequences which are why it’s so important to stop alcohol abuse in its tracks. Regardless of where you’re at, education on the problem is the first step.
What is Alcohol?
Alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol) is the ingredient found in beer, wine, and spirits that causes drunkenness. Alcohol is formed when yeast ferments (breaks down without oxygen) the sugars in different food. For instance, wine is made from the sugar in grapes, beer from the sugar in malted barley, and vodka from the sugar in potatoes, beets or other plants.
Alcohol is in the ‘sedative hypnotic’ drug class. In other words, it acts to depress the central nervous system at high doses. At lower doses, alcohol can act as a stimulant. This induces temporary feelings of euphoria and talkativeness.
However, drinking too much alcohol at one session can lead to drowsiness, respiratory depression (where breathing becomes slow, shallow or stops entirely), coma or even death. The damage that alcohol does to the liver is another consequence that is crucial to note. Recognizing the dangers now can save you a lot of pain in the future.
What Alcohol Does to the Liver
Before we talk about what alcohol does to the liver, let’s discuss what the liver itself does. 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. The role of your liver is crucial in your body’s internal processes. It also converts vitamins, nutrients, and medicines into substances that benefit our bodies.
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. Think about: 90 percent of this toxic substance is being absorbed in your liver.
Intoxication occurs when the heart and brain begin to become affected by alcohol in the bloodstream. Chronic alcohol abuse causes the destruction of liver cells, which results in scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), alcoholic hepatitis and cellular mutation.
This may even lead to liver cancer. These conditions usually progress from fatty liver to alcoholic hepatitis to cirrhosis. Although heavy drinkers may develop alcoholic cirrhosis without first developing hepatitis.
How Many Drinks Does it Take to Damage Your Liver?
The University Health Network states that a safe amount of alcohol depends on a person’s body weight, size and whether they are male or female. Women absorb more alcohol from each drink in comparison to males. This makes them at higher risk of liver damage.
Consuming 2 to 3 alcoholic drinks daily can harm one’s liver. Continuing, binge drinking, or drinking 4 or 5 more drinks in a row, can also lead to liver damage.
Mixing alcohol with other medications can also be very dangerous for your liver. We advise you to never take alcohol and medication simultaneously without speaking with your physician first.
Certain medications, such as acetaminophen, like Tylenol, can lead to severe damage to your liver in conjunction with the consumption of alcohol. Other medications that are dangerous to combine with alcohol include antibiotics, blood thinners, antidepressants, sedatives, pain medications, and muscle relaxants.
Types and Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
By now, you should have a pretty good understanding of what alcohol does to the liver. It is a toxic substance that is very damaging to one’s health. The symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease depend on the stage of the disease.
There are three stages:
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease: This is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease, where fat starts to accumulate around the liver. It can be cured by not drinking alcohol anymore.
- Acute alcoholic hepatitis: Alcohol abuse causes inflammation (swelling) of the liver in this stage. The outcome depends on the severity of the damage. In some cases, treatment can reverse the damage. However, more severe cases of alcoholic hepatitis can lead to liver failure.
- Alcoholic cirrhosis: This is the most severe form of alcohol-related liver disease. In this stage, the liver is scarred from alcohol abuse, and the damage cannot be undone. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure.
Understanding what alcohol does to the liver and the stages of liver disease can help you realize you need to quit drinking. No matter what stage you’re in, there is potential for a better tomorrow. We encourage you to call us today to learn more about how we can help you, depending on what stage you’re in.
Alcohol-Related Liver Disease Symptoms
Some people with alcohol-related liver disease don’t have symptoms until the disease is advanced. In other cases, signs are shown earlier. Symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease may show up more often after binge drinking.
Symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal discomfort
- Increased thirst
- Swelling in the legs and abdomen
- Weight loss
- Darkening or lightening of the skin
- Red hands or feet
- Dark bowel movements
- Unusual agitation
- Mood swings
- Bleeding gums
- Enlarged breasts (in men)
Alcohol and Liver Damage: The Statistics
It helps to note that there tens of thousands of Americans affected by liver disease annually, due to alcohol. Many do not realize the severity of alcohol until it is too late. We urge you not to be one of those people.
A few surprising statistics to note include:
- According to the 2015, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. 70.1 percent reported that they drank in the past year; 56.0 percent reported that they drank in the past month.
- An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
- Alcohol dependence and/or abuse rates are higher in white males than in women, although women develop ALD more rapidly than men with the same quantity and duration of alcohol consumption.
Reducing the Risk of Liver Damage
Completely cutting alcohol out can reduce the risk of liver damage. When you take a look at all the negatives of what alcohol does to your liver, you begin to understand how toxic it is. All liver diseases improve from giving up alcohol.
You should also cut out alcohol if you experience significant liver scarring or cirrhosis. Fatty liver can be reversed and further damage prevented by not drinking alcohol. It is important to note that there is no cure for cirrhosis. However, cutting out alcohol completely gives a much better chance of survival. You can live for decades with cirrhosis if you give up alcohol in time.
There are other healthy habits one can implement to reduce the impact of liver disease. These habits include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking
- Getting regular, adequate exercise
- Eating a balanced diet and avoiding processed food
- Drinking coffee
- Getting sunlight – a low Vitamin D level is bad for liver diseases
Treatment for Alcoholism
Fortunately, there are treatment options available if alcohol addiction is negatively impacting your life. It is possible to stop addiction in its tracks before it worsens. Before beginning treatment, you should understand the various services each program offers. We like to focus on treating the person as a whole, not just their alcohol addiction.
Our comprehensive treatment programs employ several or all of these factors:
Detoxification is the first step in treating alcohol addiction. It can also be the most difficult. Within the first few days after you quit drinking, you may experience extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Because of this, the alcohol detox stage should only be completed under medical supervision. After detox, you will be able to move forward with other forms of treatment and therapy.
An inpatient rehab facility is the most structured treatment environment for those overcoming alcohol addiction. Our programs typically last anywhere from 30, 60 or 90 days. Treatment specialists provide around-the-clock care and will prepare you for life after rehab.
Frequent meetings with an alcohol counselor are important for patients to receive guidance during their recovery. Counseling opens a line of communication during the good times, as well as the difficult times. Your therapist will help you target the underlying roots behind alcoholism.
Call Us Today
Alcoholism is certainly serious, but it’s also manageable. People with this condition can get the medical and psychological support they need to change their drinking patterns and their lives, and that work can start right now. By reaching out for care, people with alcoholism can get better.
Remember, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Our programs offer structured treatment that can make a tremendous difference in your life. No matter how lost you may feel, you can still get better.
Whether it’s you or a loved one struggling, an IOP can help today. From individual therapy to medical care, treatment will be tailored to your unique needs. Call Granite Mountain today at (928) 756-0694 or contact us here