Alcohol Effects on the Liver – The liver is the largest internal organ and takes on more than 500 different roles in the body. Among its many critical functions are detoxification, digestion, and metabolism. However, the liver’s main function is that of a detoxifier, meaning that it helps rid the body of waste and toxic substances, as well as plays an essential role in fighting against infections.
When a person’s liver becomes damaged, he or she will usually not know until it becomes a medical emergency, even life-threatening. Routine, prolonged use of alcohol can lead to permanent damage to the liver, and result in various types of liver disease. Alcoholic liver disease accounts for more than one-third of all liver disease-related deaths each year.
Fatty Liver Disease
When you consume an alcoholic drink, one-third goes into the stomach, and the other two-thirds end up in the small intestine. The alcohol is absorbed into the blood thereafter.
The kidneys filter out some alcohol, but the rest is sent on to the liver. Here, the alcohol is broken down into a toxic chemical known as acetaldehyde. The body recognizes that this chemical is destructive, and it is burned instead of fat.
Excessive drinking causes two things to happen: one, the fat that should be used by the body gets stored in the liver, and excess acetaldehyde harms liver cells. Too much fat in the liver results in fatty liver disease (FLD).
Symptoms of FLD include abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss. Fatty liver disease is incurable, and symptoms can last a lifetime. More than 3 million Americans suffer from FLD each year.
Over time, acetaldehyde wreaks havoc on liver cells, and, as a result, the liver eventually becomes inflamed. When the liver becomes inflamed, it can no longer function properly – the result is a condition known as alcoholic hepatitis.
Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include the following:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Appetite loss
- Male impotence and testicular shrinkage
The damage of alcoholic hepatitis is reversible, but it requires prolonged abstinence from alcohol use. If you have been diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you should stop drinking immediately.
Hepatic encephalopathy is characterized by a loss of brain function that occurs when the liver is no longer able to rid toxins from the blood. Therefore, these substances reach the brain and, as a consequence, malfunction begins to occur. Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy include severe confusion, altered levels of consciousness, coma, and death.
Liver cirrhosis occurs when liver cells become so damaged that they are replaced by scar tissue. By this point, the liver has been inflamed for so long that it becomes hard and lumpy. Blood and other body fluids can no longer efficiently pass through and be properly filtered.
Cirrhosis can occur after someone continues to consume alcohol while having either fatty liver disease or alcoholic hepatitis. Cirrhosis is incurable, just as with alcoholic hepatitis, and the liver damage it causes is also irreversible. Symptoms of cirrhosis are similar to those of alcoholic hepatitis, although more severe.
There are several different types of liver cancer. The type associated with alcohol-caused cirrhosis is also known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and is the most common form of liver cancer. The scarring from cirrhosis can cause a cancerous tumor to develop inside the liver.
Liver cancer is also incurable, although it can be treated with chemotherapy or radiation. Other alternatives include liver transplant or removal of part of the liver. Symptoms are similar to cirrhosis, only more severe. Hepatitis B and C are the most common instigators of liver cancer.
More than seventy people die each day from liver cancer, and more than half (nearly 60%) of those will die within one year. After five years, that number increases to 83%.
Seeking Help for Alcohol Addiction
If you have begun to suffer from symptoms of liver disease, it is critical that you stop drinking immediately. For alcoholics, this can be very difficult, however, and often requires the help of medical health providers and addiction professionals to provide patients with the tools they need to achieve sobriety, navigate life without drugs or alcohol, and prevent relapse indefinitely.
Treatment typically begins with a medical detox followed immediately by a transition to an inpatient or intensive outpatient program. Both formats include evidence-based services critical to recovery, including psychotherapy, counseling, group support, and more.
If you have been diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease, please contact us immediately – we can help! From detox to treatment and aftercare, our center employs caring personnel who deliver services customized to meet the needs of every individual and ensure they have the best chance at a full recovery and long-lasting wellness and sobriety.
You can restore your life and experience the happiness and harmony that you deserve!