What Happens to Your Liver From Abusing Alcohol?

Continuous alcohol abuse can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease (cirrhosis), and alcoholic hepatitis. If an individual is genetically predisposed to liver complications, alcohol will make these complications even worse. 

To develop cirrhosis, a serious liver disease, men need to drink more than about 3 ounces of alcohol a day for more than 10 years. This would involve drinking 6 cans of beer, 5 glasses of wine, or 6 shots of liquor. 

Approximately half the men who drink more than 8 ounces of alcohol a day for 20 years end up with cirrhosis.

How Alcohol Effects Genders Differently

Research shows that the effects of drinking patterns on liver damage vary by gender. Women have a higher susceptibility in general. But for men, the amount and frequency of drinking appear to be very influential.

It is estimated that about 8.5% of adults in the U.S. have alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism) at any given point in time. Twice as many men as women abuse alcohol. Men are also 2 to 4 times more likely to develop AUD. 

The Liver and The Damage Done

What happens during mass consumption of alcohol is the liver and kidneys stop being able to process it as quickly as the body would like. Liver damage occurs so easily in alcoholics because of the contrasting behaviors at hand. The liver does everything it can to protect the body while alcohol does the opposite.

Alcoholic liver disease is damage to the liver caused by drinking too much alcohol for a long time. Generally speaking, the amount of alcohol consumed—how much, how often, and for how long—determines the risk and severity of liver damage.

Symptoms of liver damage span from none at first to:

  • Jaundice
  • Fatigue
  • Painful, tender, enlarged liver
  • Bleeding in the digestive tract
  • Degradation of brain function 

What’s Going On?

After being absorbed in the digestive tract, most alcohol is processed by the liver. During processing, substances are produced that can damage the liver. The more alcohol is processed, the more damage is done to the liver. If mildly damaged, the liver can function for a while and even recover. It can also continue to function if about 80% of it is damaged. 

Nevertheless, if an individual with this amount of liver damage continues drinking, the damage will progress and eventually end in death.

Alcohol use disorder can cause three types of liver damage. They often occur in this order:

  • Fatty Liver—This is the least serious type and can be reversed, sometimes. More than 90% of people who drink too much get fatty liver.
  • Alcoholic Hepatitis—This is an inflammation of the liver and occurs in 10 to 35% of people. It can be fatal if you’ve had previous liver damage. If alcoholic hepatitis is found and treated early, cirrhosis can be prevented. Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis are:
  • Changes in appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Changes in mental state, including confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Cirrhosis–In cirrhosis, a significant amount of normal liver tissue is permanently replaced by scar tissue. This is called fibrosis and it doesn’t function. As a consequence of fibrosis, the internal structure of the liver is disturbed and it can’t function normally. When this happens, the person may have a few symptoms or the same ones caused by alcoholic hepatitis. It can not be reversed. In addition to the symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis, these symptoms may present:
  • Itchy skin
  • Spiderlike blood vessels on your skin
  • Absence of periods not related to menopause
  • For men, loss of sex drive, testicular atrophy, or breast enlargement

Complications of Cirrhosis Include:

  • High blood pressure in the veins (portal hypertension) that supply blood to the liver.
  • Swelling. The swelling in the legs and abdomen may result from the liver being unable to make enough of certain blood proteins.
  • Swelling of the spleen which causes decreased white blood cells in the blood.
  • Bleeding. Portal hypertension causes blood to be sent to smaller veins. The extra pressure can cause the small veins to burst which causes serious bleeding. If the liver can no longer make enough clotting factors, it contributes to more bleeding.
  • Infections. When you have cirrhosis your body will have difficulties fighting infections.
  • Malnutrition. Cirrhosis may make it harder for your body to take care of nutrients. This leads to weakness and weight loss.
  • Toxin buildup in the brain. A cirrhosis-damaged liver is not able to clear toxins from the blood as well as a healthy one. The toxins build up in the brain and cause mental confusion and difficulty concentrating. In time, it may progress to unresponsiveness or a coma.
  • Bone disease. There is a greater risk of fractures due to loss of bone strength.
  • Risk of liver cancer. There is a large relationship between people who develop liver cancer and people who have cirrhosis.
  • Acute-on-chronic cirrhosis. Some people end up with multiorgan failure. Researchers believe that this is a definite complication in some people with cirrhosis, but don’t entirely understand the causes.

The Liver/Brain Connection

When the liver is damaged, these poisons will build up in the bloodstream and affect the workings of the nervous system. The result may be hepatic encephalopathy (HE). There are psychological, motor, and cognitive disorders that may result in various symptoms, including coma.

Brain and liver damage are two of the bigger components derived from these liquored engagements. One of the important jobs of the liver is to neutralize toxins in the body. They may be toxins made by the body or substances you ingest. 

Once you have liver damage, periods of declining brain function can be triggered by:

  • Dehydration
  • Bleeding from intestines, stomach or esophagus
  • Infections
  • Kidney problems
  • Narcotic pain medications
  • Low oxygen levels in the body

In some cases, HE can be a short-term issue that can be corrected. It may also occur as a consequence of liver disease that gets worse over the long-term. You need to contact a medical professional if you become aware of any problems with your mental state or nervous system function. 

How Does Alcohol Effect the Brain?

Blackouts and hangovers are due to the alcohol blocking certain receptors in our brains. The beverages disrupt all sorts of communication between parts of the mind—specifically the hippocampus.

You see, the neurons being transmitted to and from the hippocampus help create memories. Blackouts will cause the brain to lose the ability to learn and store information practically. Then the receptors being blocked by the alcohol saturation and the liver’s inability to filter the blood, stop the brain from creating new memories of any sort. It’s all a chain reaction that happens unbeknownst to the user.

The Problem Grows

The problems just keep building from there. Ignoring alcoholism is essentially like asking for liver damage. Everybody’s bodies and minds are different, so not everybody will damage the same of course. Some will find themselves dealing with the detrimental effects much sooner than others. Some will find themselves leading a life full of imbibing with no nasty after-effects at all. It just depends.  

However, the chances of walking away without a scratch are usually grim if you have this disease. This disease wants liver damage, it wants pain, and it wants death. Yet it can all be avoided if we pay attention to the liver-spotted warning signs. With a little luck and a lot of action, the mind and body heal in ways that we could never imagine if we give it the chance way from alcohol.

Can Someone Survive Cirrhosis Caused by Alcohol?

Abstinence from alcohol at one month after the diagnosis of cirrhosis is the most important factor in determining the survival of the disease.

A study led by Dr. Nick Sheron from the University of Southampton discovered that abstinence from alcohol is the essential factor in long-term prognosis. Even with fairly severe alcohol-related cirrhosis. Despite this good news, the bad news is that up to 25% of people with alcohol-related cirrhosis die before they get the chance to stop drinking.

Dr. Sheron found that the percentage of cirrhosis found was less of a factor in survival than abstinence. And he found a seven-year survival rate of 72% for people who had given up drinking compared to 44% for those who did not.

Five Ways to Help Detox Your Liver

Here are 5 ways to show you liver some love:

  1. Less boozing (or none at all)—Liver damage can be reversed if you cut out or cut back what caused it. In this case, alcohol. It’s not clear why some people get liver damage from drinking, and some don’t or how much liquor is “safe” to drink. It’s best to stick to the government recommendations of no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.
  2. Drink coffee—Increasingly, research reveals that your liver loves coffee. It may help reduce the risk of liver disease by as much as 70% and also protect against alcohol-related cirrhosis. 
  3. Detoxify with foods--Drink green tea and water instead of sodas. Cook with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger rather than taking the supplements. Cruciferous vegetables like kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts have chemical compounds that help the liver break down hormones and chemicals.
  4. Limit other assaults on your liver.—A sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet can also cause fat to build up around the liver and lead to liver disease, even without adding alcohol. Eat in moderation and exercise regularly. Muscle tissue absorbs alcohol better than fat, so get to the gym if you plan to continue drinking.
  5. Get guidance—We all have different situations, and our bodies react differently to stressors, toxins, and other influences. The liver doesn’t reveal damage until late. Blood work can reveal how deep into liver damage you might be. Working with an addiction specialist can be important to explore why you are using alcohol in the first place.

There is no magic pill to clean up your liver. An article in the journal Hepatology reports that liver injury caused by dietary and herbal supplements is on the increase in the U.S. This contributes to 20% of liver toxicity cases.

Can the Damage Caused by Alcohol be Reversed?

If you give your liver a break, which means not drinking all the time or limiting the amount you drink, you may be able to recover up to a point. The liver has an unusual ability to regenerate. If it is chemically damaged (by drugs or alcohol), the cells are programmed to divide and grow. 

When the liver becomes really scarred, it loses the ability to regenerate. The only way to reverse the damage from alcohol-induced scarring is to completely stop drinking alcohol. Regrettably, there aren’t any drugs available to treat liver damage, so you just have to do it the old-fashioned way: stop drinking and make some healthy lifestyle changes.

Liver cirrhosis is irreversible and typically ends with a total loss of liver function. The only established treatment is having a liver transplant. There have been advancements in the field of regenerative medicine and hopes for the treatment of liver cirrhosis. However, more studies and clinical trials need to be performed before liver transplantation can be replaced by liver regenerative medicine.

Where To Turn

Continuously letting alcohol take advantage of you can put anybody’s feathers in a ruffle. Addiction doesn’t give us a choice, however. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything that can be done. You can fight back and gain your sobriety. 

If you or a loved one has been struggling with getting a firm grasp on sobriety and need detoxification, please call us today or contact us here. Our teams of specialists are waiting to help figure out what options are best for sending your life is a comfortable direction that you can proudly stand behind.

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