what does alcohol do to your liver

The Effects Of Alcohol On Your Liver

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 what is found in liquor, beer or wine that causes intoxication. 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, its a depressant to the central nervous system at larger amounts. At smaller amounts, alcohol can act as a stimulant. This induces temporary feelings of happiness and excitement. 

Alcohol in small doses is easily processed by your liver, and it is generally not an issue. However, when someone ends up drinking too much, it can lead to extreme drowsiness and even respiratory depression, coma, or 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 works as a filter and removes substances that are bad for your body. The liver also created enzymes and different proteins that are then in turn used to protect the body from infection. 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. In order for the liver to act such an effective filter it most processes most of what your body takes in, this means your liver processes over 90% of the alcohol you drink. Everything else exits the body via your breath, your sweat, or your urine. 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. Consistent 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.

If you are drinking between 2-3 drinks daily, you are at risk of harming your liver. Even worse, binge drinking, meaning 4 or more drinks within an hour can lead to even more serious damage.

You also run the risk of creating more liver damage if you are mixing alcohol with medications. With any medication you take you should always get medical advice from your doctor regarding mixing with alcohol.

Even over the counter medications like Tylenol (or acetaminophen), can produce damaging effects to your liver. There are several other medications that are dangerous to consume alcohol with such as many antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and blood thinners.

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 are broken down into three separate stages. 

The three stages of alcohol-related liver disease

  1. Alcoholic fatty liver disease: This is where fat starts to build up around the liver. If an individual quits drinking, this can be cured.
  2. Acute alcoholic hepatitis: This can lead to liver failure if not caught soon and treated. This is when alcohol makes the liver swell. The more you drink the more it swells and the severity of the hepatitis increases.
  3. Alcoholic cirrhosis: As the last stage in liver disease it is the most severe, the liver is scarred beyond treatment. Cirrhosis can not be undone and will often 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
  • Jaundice
  • Tiredness 
  • Nausea
  • Stomach/digestive issues
  • Insatiable thirst
  • Lower body swelling 
  • Loss of weight
  • Darkening or lightening of the skin
  • Flushed feed and hands
  • Dark bowel movements
  • Light-headedness
  • Easy irritability
  • Moodiness
  • Disorientation
  • Bleeding gums
  • Male breast tissue growth

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 Alcohol Use Disorder

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:

Alcohol Detox

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 will probably experience distressing withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, the alcohol detox stage should only be completed under medical supervision.  Once you are finished with detox, you will move on to an individualized treatment approach that’s best for you. 

Inpatient Rehab

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. 

Alcohol Counseling

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

References:

https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/alcohol/physical-health/alcohols-effect-on-the-body/the-liver.html

https://www.uhn.ca/

https://liverfoundation.org/liver-disease-statistics/#alcohol-related-liver-disease-and-cirrhosis

 

Article Reviewed by Gregory Struve

Gregory StruveGreg received a Master’s in Counseling from the Adler Graduate School in 2006. He trained at one of the top trauma and anxiety treatment centers in the world until 2008 when he became a faculty member at Grand Canyon University. From 2011 to 2016 he directed a program that leads the field in terms of innovative treatment of anxiety and trauma. During that time he even made several appearances on A&E’s intervention.