Drug and Alcohol - Addiction Recovery

Liver Damage: Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Liver Damage: Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Liver damage is an outcome of alcohol abuse and heavy drinking. Fatty liver, cirrhosis, and more can drastically shorten your life. Learn more!

Our liver is an essential body part in the top right corner of the abdomen, close to your ribs. It performs a variety of tasks for your physical well-being, including:

  • Metabolizing alcohol, narcotics, and other possibly harmful compounds 

  • Creating proteins essential for blood clotting

  • Generating bile to help with food digestion

  • Activating enzymes

  • Storing various vitamins, minerals, and glycogen

  • Synthesizing plasma proteins, such as albumin

  • Excreting cholesterol, hormones, and bilirubin

The negative consequences of alcohol and other substances on the liver are not a mystery to anybody. And even though the human body can tolerate and recover from a lot of damage, it has its limits. For example, prolonged damage to the liver can result in the formation of scar tissue. Although liver tissue can mend itself, when the growth of scar tissue replaces healthy tissues in the liver, it can lose its capacity to perform its essential duties. 

Excessive alcohol intake is one of the primary factors responsible for liver dysfunction. Alcohol-related liver disease is the medical term for liver damage brought on by the excessive consumption of alcohol. 

By the Numbers:

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says that alcohol was a factor in 43.1% of the 85,688 liver disease deaths in people aged 12 and up in 2019.

Let us now try to learn how to check for signs and symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease in your loved ones, friends, and family. We will also seek answers to what actually happens to your liver when you drink too much alcohol and what you can do to prevent that damage. 

What Are Some Early Signs and Symptoms of Liver Damage From Alcohol?

Alcohol is a toxic substance, and processing dangerous chemicals is one of the essential functions of the liver. As you drink, your liver's many enzymes try to metabolize the alcohol to eliminate it from your system. 

As long as you drink in small quantities, the liver functions properly. But when the amounts keep rising and reach a threshold where the liver can no longer digest it, a problem occurs. Firstly, this surge in alcohol consumption is manifested as an increase in liver fat, but eventually, it can cause inflammation and extreme buildup of scar tissue. 

Some people may not even realize that something is going on in the liver since the initial phases of alcohol-related liver disease typically exhibit no signs or symptoms. This is why you need to drink responsibly. You can contract a severe disease and may not even know it until it is too late. 

If there are any subtle signs of liver damage from alcohol, they would include the following:

  • Exhaustion

  • Sudden weight loss

  • Nausea

  • Indigestion

  • Vomiting

  • Reduced appetite 

  • Uneasiness

  • Irregular and extreme pain in the top right corner of your stomach (caused due to swelling of the liver)

What Happens to The Liver if You Drink Too Much?

It is common knowledge that an excess of anything can never be good. However, people who drink too much alcohol or alcoholic beverages are at a higher risk of developing any of the three conditions included under the umbrella term: alcohol-related liver disease. Let us talk about these three liver dysfunctions in detail:

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

As the name suggests, a condition is diagnosed as alcoholic fatty liver disease when the extreme consumption of alcohol leads to the accumulation of fat in your liver. It is also known in the medical community as hepatic steatosis. Alcohol abuse can prevent the liver from breaking down fats, leading to fat buildup.

People who drink heavily and engage in alcohol abuse are very susceptible to facing this condition. In fact, scholars mention that around 90% of heavy drinkers suffer from this illness. As we discussed even earlier, people with excess fat in the liver usually show no clear signs and symptoms; however, sometimes people can experience the following:

  • Getting exhausted without doing any major physical activities

  • Losing weight for no reason

  • Shooting pains or continuous discomfort in the upper right section of the abdomen 

The good news is that refraining from drinking alcohol for a few weeks can help cure alcoholic fatty liver disease. The precise period of abstinence differs from person to person. People drinking heavily for a long time might have to stop alcohol use altogether. 

Suppose a person suffering from alcoholic fatty disease also suffers from alcoholism, which means they cannot control their drinking. In that case, doctors may need to intervene and create a custom treatment program. This treatment plan may include medical evaluation, detox, and rehabilitation in an inpatient or outpatient facility.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

If heavy drinking is not stopped, alcoholic fatty liver disease can quickly progress into a condition called alcoholic hepatitis. 

Unlike fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis can have some unmistakable signs and symptoms, such as:

  • High fever

  • Queasiness/nausea

  • Unexplained exhaustion

  • Vomiting

  • Jaundice 

  • Loss of dietary appetite 

  • Constant discomfort in the liver region 

Depending on your drinking habits, alcoholic hepatitis can either be mild or extreme. 

  • Mild alcoholic hepatitis: Damage to the liver happens gradually over a long period. 

  • Severe/extreme alcoholic hepatitis: Can appear unexpectedly; for instance, you can feel intense pain in your liver after a night of binge drinking. Severe alcoholic hepatitis can be fatal. 

Some people may be able to undo the harm caused by alcoholic hepatitis by quitting drinking for good. However, they may also have to follow some dietary restrictions and take anti-inflammatory medicines as part of the treatment process. On the other hand, some people with alcoholic hepatitis may have to undergo a liver transplant. 

Alcoholic Cirrhosis

The last and most risky of the three alcohol-related liver diseases, alcoholic cirrhosis, is caused due to the replacement of healthy liver tissue by the growth of scar tissue. Increased scar tissue formation in the liver is known as fibrosis, and severe fibrosis leads to alcoholic cirrhosis. 

A person who has alcoholic cirrhosis exhibits the same signs as alcoholic hepatitis. However, alcoholic cirrhosis can result in several detrimental health issues, including:

  • Liver tumors 

  • Higher risk of getting infections

  • Swelling in the abdomen

  • Ascites- a buildup of fluid in the stomach 

  • Portal Hypertension: high BP of the liver

  • Hepatic Encephalopathy: a buildup of toxins in the brain 

  • Varices- bleeding from veins in the upper digestive tract 

  • Intestinal bleeding 

  • Kidney problems 

  • Gallstones 

Unlike in the cases of alcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic hepatitis, liver damage due to alcoholic cirrhosis cannot be undone. Even occasional consumption of alcohol must be stopped upon being diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis. The doctors focus on creating a treatment plan that prevents further liver damage while also taking care of any side effects.

An extremely chronic case of alcoholic cirrhosis can necessitate a liver transplant. 

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Many variables increase your prospects of contracting an alcohol-related liver disease, including:

  • Even though drinking occasionally would not harm your liver, you never know how and when you may develop a dependency on alcohol. And consuming large amounts of alcohol over the years can increase your chances of getting an alcohol-related liver disease. 

  • Women are at a higher risk of getting liver damage (and experiencing other problems) due to alcohol-related liver disease than their counterparts.  

  • Obese people are more likely to develop alcohol-related liver disease than people with normal body fat. 

  • Genes have a lot of influence on your pattern of alcohol consumption. Your possibility of becoming an alcoholic and getting alcohol-related liver disease increases if your parents suffer from them. Drug addiction has a genetic component.

  • Individuals with chronic hepatitis B or C are more likely to get liver damage. 

What Can You Do to Improve Your Liver Health?

You can take several actions to help maintain a healthy and well-functioning liver. Quite obviously, drinking sensibly is one of them. 

The risk of getting an alcohol-related liver disease can be lowered by consuming alcohol in moderation. And you must understand that 'in moderation' is hardly a relative term. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that drinking alcohol in moderation means:

  • Women have about one drink a day

  • Aound two drinks per day for men

You must also remember that the definition of a regular drink can change depending on the kind of alcohol or alcoholic beverage you have. Let's see what must be considered one drink:

  • 1.5 ounces of liquor (40% alcohol content)

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)

  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)

  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)

Keeping your alcohol intake in check would not just reduce your chances of having to suffer from liver diseases, but it will also keep you safe from a life of alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. It is also absolutely crucial to abstain from consuming alcohol if and when you are:

  • Not of legal age

  • Going through a pregnancy 

  • Taking strong prescription medications or even OTC painkillers/analgesics 

  • On the road to recovery from alcoholism 

Apart from keeping your alcohol consumption in check, you should follow the steps given below to improve and manage your liver health:

  • Balanced diet: What you put in your body is deciding between a healthy and unhealthy life. You must include protein, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables in your diet to maintain liver health. Foods rich in carbs and fats must be consumed only in limited quantities. 

  • Regular exercise: Movement is essential for the human body. Light exercise or running 4 or 5 days a week can help you manage the extra fat in the liver. 

  • Weight management: We have discussed before that obesity increases your chances of developing ARLD. If you are not at your ideal body weight, try to work with a dietitian or nutrition expert to create a weight loss program suitable for you and your lifestyle. 

  • Regular medical examinations: Since some liver conditions do not show any physical signs and symptoms, you must get yourself checked up regularly by a healthcare professional. Doing this also helps in identifying and treating any significant underlying issues early. 

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How Do I Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Abstaining from alcohol is the first and most important part of recovery from liver damage. But the truth is not everyone can practice abstinence without help from professionals. "Going cold turkey" or suddenly cutting down all alcohol use can prove difficult and dangerous.

Instead, it is better to seek professional help and get admitted into an inpatient drug rehab or outpatient rehab facility. While both options are meaningful and effective, you can talk to the clinic and find out which would suit you better.

Inpatient Drug Rehab

Inpatient therapy involves staying at the facility for a set amount of time. The chances are that inpatient rehabilitation programs at an addiction treatment center will provide the full range of services, starting with the medical evaluation and continuing with drug detox, post-detox therapy, regaining mental wellness, and transitioning back into everyday life outside of a rehab facility.

Those who require more than a minimal level of monitoring are typically advised to enroll in inpatient alcohol rehab programs. Throughout the care plan, the user gets round-the-clock supervision with the promise of easy access to therapeutic tools. If someone has tried rehab before with discouraging results or has a history of relapse in the recent past, there is a higher chance that the person will be recommended an inpatient drug rehab. Similarly, people with a severe drinking problem that has continued for a long time are likely to be routed toward inpatient rehab care.

Outpatient Drug Rehab

A typical outpatient drug rehab program will not ask the person to be admitted to the facility. This means staying at the facility is not a necessity. In contrast, there is room for providing emergency or urgent medical care if the person develops hard-to-manage symptoms such as those associated with alcohol withdrawal. Even if severe symptoms arise and it needs hospitalization-like care, the program does not insist on completing a rehab stay at the facility.

Instead, the person spends a few hours in an outpatient setting at the rehab facility. There is more flexibility in scheduling the visits to the facility once the detox is completed. This means making it easier for the person to continue seeking care and balancing life at home or the workplace. Outpatient facilities are most likely to help a person find the time to manage therapy and continue with rehab care in some form, even on working days of the week, around the weekends, or during the evening hours.

Don't Risk Liver Damage From Alcohol Abuse. The Edge Treatment Center Can Help Treat Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use disorder can seem like a hopeless situation. Experiencing a disease due to liver damage can only make it worse. The Edge Treatment Center will help you leave alcohol abuse behind.

We'll start by helping you find a drug detox center where you can go through alcohol withdrawal safely and comfortably. We can also help you find a trustworthy inpatient drug detox center where you can continue to recover from alcohol detox and start your recovery in the best way possible.

When you're ready for our alcohol treatment program at our outpatient drug rehab, The Edge's team will work with you to ensure you have everything you need to create a life free from alcohol abuse.

Why risk liver damage and worse? Reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today, and begin your recovery the right way.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

Addiction Recovery

March 4, 2023