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How Alcohol Affects Your Liver 

The liver is the largest internal body organ. It is actively involved in breaking down and eliminating bodily waste products, including alcohol.1 In fact, the liver breaks down more than 90 percent of consumed alcohol, with the rest being passed out through urine, sweat, or breath.2

One alcoholic beverage takes around an hour to be processed in the body. With each drink, the time lengthens. The longer it takes for someone to metabolize alcohol, the greater their blood alcohol content will be after a few drinks. 

Unfortunately, the liver can only handle a specific amount of alcohol at a time. When a person drinks excessively, the alcohol that is not metabolized by the liver remains in the blood. People get drunk when their blood alcohol content begins to affect their hearts and brain. 

Chronic alcohol use destroys liver cells, resulting in liver scarring (cirrhosis), alcoholic hepatitis, and cellular mutations that may lead to liver cancer.3 

Although heavy drinkers may develop alcoholic cirrhosis without first developing hepatitis, these diseases typically progress from fatty liver to alcoholic hepatitis to cirrhosis:

  1.  Alcoholic fatty liver disease: This occurs due to accumulated fat within the liver cells and is the most common alcoholic liver disease.
  2. Alcoholic hepatitis: This is an acute liver inflammation resulting in cell death and accompanied by permanent scarring.
  3. Alcoholic cirrhosis: This is the worst stage of liver damage characterized by tissue destruction and irreversible scarring.

How Much Alcohol Can Cause Liver Damage?

Studies indicate that the effects of alcohol intake depend on individual factors such as weight, size, genetics, gender, and underlying health conditions.4 In contrast to men, women absorb more alcohol from each drink, putting them at higher risk of liver disease. The liver may be harmed by drinking two to three alcoholic beverages each day. 

Furthermore, binge drinking, or consuming four or five drinks in one session, may harm the liver. Those who consume 40 grams of alcohol a day are at risk of developing liver cirrhosis. Alcoholic hepatitis affects those who have been drinking excessively for several years. 

On the other hand, cirrhosis patients often have a history of excessive drinking that spans more than ten years.

But heavy, everyday drinkers aren’t the only ones who are in danger. According to one study, even seven weeks of binge drinking may result in the early stages of liver damage.5 Each person’s tolerance for alcohol and the length of time it takes to cause harm will be different. You should be particularly cautious if you have a family history of drinking, liver illness, or other underlying problems.

Alcohol combined with other medicines can be extremely harmful to your liver. Never consume alcohol and medications at the same time without first consulting qualified medical professionals.

Certain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), may cause severe liver damage when combined with alcohol. Antibiotics, pain relievers, antidepressants, blood thinners, sedatives, and muscle relaxants are also among the drugs that should not be used with alcohol.

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What are the Signs of Liver Damage From Alcohol?

Unfortunately, an alcohol-related liver disease usually has no symptoms until it has progressed to the point where your liver cannot function properly.

Below are early signs of liver damage:

  • Tenderness in the liver
  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Drowsiness and confusion

In case of severe inflammation in the liver, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Swelling in the ankles and feet
  • Itchy skin
  • Jaundice (yellow skin)
  • Fever
  • Increased sensitivity to illness
  • Traces of blood in vomit or stool
  • Disorientation
  • Ascites (swelling of the abdomen due to fluid build-up) 
  • Liver failure

Can Your Liver Heal Itself From Alcohol?

The ability of your liver to repair itself after alcohol damage depends on the extent of the damage. Since the liver is very resilient, alcoholic fatty liver disease can resolve on its own if you reduce your drinking pattern.6 It may be possible to drink moderately after your liver has returned to normal. However, it’s critical to keep an eye on your liver’s health and avoid putting it under undue stress.

Depending on how far the disease has progressed, alcoholic hepatitis is usually reversible. Quitting drinking and, in certain instances, taking medication may help your liver recover by reducing inflammation.

Cirrhosis, on the other hand, is irreversible. If your liver has scar tissue, it will most likely remain like that for the rest of your life. The greatest thing you can do if you have cirrhosis is to quit drinking as soon as possible and get medical advice on how to manage your condition.

Can The Liver Repair Itself After Years of Heavy Drinking?

The liver can repair itself even after years of drinking as long as the damage hasn’t progressed to cirrhosis. In this case, fatty liver disease and alcoholic hepatitis are reversible as long as you quit alcohol consumption and give your liver time to heal. The time required for the liver to fully heal will depend on several factors, primarily alcohol usage.

The healing process may still be possible for heavy drinkers who are still at the early stages of liver damage. However, if you have cirrhosis, the build-up of scar tissues will make it impossible for your liver to repair itself.

How Long Does it Take for the Liver to Heal Itself?

The liver is an amazing organ as it is self-healing and is constantly in a state of generating. If you quit consuming alcohol early enough in the illness process, your liver may be able to repair some alcohol-related damage. Healing may begin as soon as a few days to weeks after you quit drinking, but it might take months or even years if the damage is severe.

The more breathing room you give your liver, the quicker it will heal. That’s why, if you’ve been diagnosed with any liver illness or injury, you must constantly take extra precautions while caring for your liver.

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8 Signs Your Liver is Healing From Alcohol

If your liver begins to perform the following functions effectively, it is a sign that it’s healing:

  1. Amino-acid regulation
  2. Balancing glucose levels
  3. Enabling blood clotting
  4. Creating immune factors
  5. Eliminating bacteria from the bloodstream
  6. Efficient bilirubin removal 
  7. Eliminating drugs from the system
  8. Converting glucose to glycogen

When a healthy liver is damaged, it can repair itself. If you’re having trouble with your liver, you may be dealing with a problem that could permanently damage it and put your life in jeopardy. Make an effort to see your doctor if you have any underlying concerns.

When is Liver Repair Treatment Necessary?

Liver repair treatment is necessary before the damage progresses. Unfortunately, alcohol-related liver disease frequently has no symptoms until it has progressed to the point where your liver is unable to function properly. This is why you have to seek medical checkups regularly to detect any early symptoms of damage. 

Alcohol abuse typically results in three kinds of liver damage. Fatty liver disease is one of them. If you quit drinking, the liver may heal on its own from fatty liver disease.

However, there is an increased risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis if you do not quit drinking. This potentially fatal disease generally requires medical intervention in addition to self-help measures such as consuming a liver-nourishing diet. One of the numerous health advantages of stopping alcohol is that it allows your liver to recuperate from the damage caused by drinking.

If treatment is ignored, consumption continues, and the condition progresses, your liver may completely lose its functionality, and you may have to undergo a liver transplant to fix the problem.

When is Alcohol-Induced Liver Damage Irreversible? 

Alcohol-induced liver damage is irreversible once the condition advances from alcoholic hepatitis to liver cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis is characterized by scarring of the liver tissue, making it difficult for the liver to regenerate new cells and perform most of its functions.7

When you have cirrhosis, you must quit drinking alcohol to avoid dying from liver failure, which occurs when your liver stops functioning entirely. You will only be eligible for a liver transplant in the most severe instances of cirrhosis if you have not used alcohol for at least three months.

How to Tell When it’s Time to Stop Drinking

Drinking alcohol may be fun, but there comes a time when one has to make that big decision to quit. How do you determine that it’s time to regain your sobriety? Below are signs that will tell you when it's time to put that drink away:

  • Trouble controlling or stopping your drinking behavior even though you have the desire to do so
  • Built-up tolerance for alcohol
  • Making excuses just to get time to drink
  • Physical changes or neglecting physical appearance
  • Loss of appetite or malnutrition
  • Drinking alone 
  • Concern from friends and family members who observe your behavior
  • Alcohol-related health problems such as liver damage and mental health issues

You will be making the essential step toward recovery when you acknowledge that you have an alcohol problem. It is possible to live a productive and healthy lifestyle while abstaining from alcohol, but you will need the support of others to learn how to stop drinking and enjoy life without it. 

Alcohol rehab centers can help you recover from alcohol addiction and regain proper mental health. Whether you prefer inpatient therapy or outpatient therapy, alcohol addiction treatment professionals will evaluate and implement the right recovery programs for you.

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Resources

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Alcohol in the body,” National Institute of Health (NIH)

Alcohol Metabolism,” Bowling Green State University (BGSU)

Alcohol Metabolism: An Update,” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), July 2007

Information about Alcohol,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

Binge Drinking May Quickly Lead to Liver Damage,” University of California San Francisco (UCSF), 19 January 2017

Treatment: Alcohol-related liver disease,” NHS

Alcoholic Liver Disease,” Johns Hopkins Medicine

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