Unfortunately, individuals who are suffering from alcohol abuse also face the risk of developing physical health problems. Although it’s not likely that these issues will develop right away, continued alcohol abuse can negatively affect the body in the long run.

The liver is one of the most important organs in your entire body. It sits alongside the gallbladder and the pancreas, and together these organs keep the digestive tract running smoothly. The main role of the liver is to filter the blood coming into the digestive tract before passing it through the rest of the body. Known as the great detoxifying organ, the liver is an extremely valuable organ. This is why a poorly functioning liver can pose serious and dangerous health complications.

A large proportion of those suffering from alcohol addiction or binge drinking disorders will develop serious alcohol-related liver diseases as a consequence. When too much alcohol is consumed, the liver is unable to properly detoxify the blood before letting it pass through the body. This causes the liver and eventually other bodily functions to shut down. A reputable detox program and long term rehabilitation plan will help anyone suffering from alcohol addiction detoxify their body and begin to rebuild a healthy lifestyle. 

How Does the Body Process Alcohol? 

When the liver is functioning properly, it filters and converts toxic substances to be safely distributed to the rest of the body through blood. Most of the alcohol people drink will go through this process, and the potentially dangerous chemicals in alcohol will be metabolized before entering the bloodstream. 

Although it varies from person to person, it typically takes an hour to process one alcoholic beverage. This time will increase as the person keeps drinking since the liver isn’t designed to handle a large amount of alcohol at a time. 

In small doses, the dangerous ingredients of alcohol will be removed before reaching other parts of the body. If the liver can’t filter everything out properly, these toxins will reach the brain, the heart, and the rest of the body.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much? 

The basic guide to follow is that individuals should limit themselves to one or two alcoholic beverages per day. This should be measured not by the number of cups, but by the amount of pure alcohol in each serving. For example, a double shot in one glass is not one drink; it’s two. 

At the same time, servings should not be averaged over a period of time. Having seven drinks in one night but remaining sober the rest of the week does not equal “one drink per day”. Heavy consumption in a short period of time is considered binge drinking and increases your chances of developing liver disease. 

Again, these numbers may vary based on a lot of different factors. Some people may be much heavier in weight and larger in size and could hypothetically “handle” more alcohol — but sticking to one per day (if any!) is the safest bet. 

Types of Liver Diseases

Although there are many different kinds of liver diseases, there are 3 main types when relating to alcohol consumption. Risk factors for developing all three include the severity of alcohol addiction, family history, and other health conditions. While mostly treatable, some may cause permanent damage. The three most commonly developed alcoholic conditions include fatty liver, hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.

Fatty Liver 

Fatty liver is the most common alcohol-related liver disease, and the most easily developed. Most patients with alcoholic fatty liver disease make a strong recovery if they receive treatment early enough. Sometimes for a variety of reasons, patients do not seek treatment and this can result in permanent damage. Risk factors include excessive alcohol use, family history, co-occurring addictions, and the use of prescription medications. 

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a liver disease that can form in different levels of severity. Alcoholic hepatitis is an inflammatory condition of the liver caused by heavy alcohol consumption over an extended period of time. Binge drinking will also aggravate the condition, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. 

Continued drinking can lead to additional health problems such as fatal liver damage or co-occurring kidney failure. 

Alcoholic cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is developed after prolonged liver damage and is considered irreversible. Cirrhosis is a deep scarring of the liver tissue which leaves the liver unable to process and detoxify the blood properly. There is no proven cure for cirrhosis, and typically in order to survive, individuals will require a transplant. Reducing and stopping all alcohol use is the only preventive measure for alcoholic cirrhosis. 

Symptoms Of Liver Disease 

People suffering from alcohol addiction or binge drinking disorder are at a much higher risk of developing a serious liver condition than the average individual. People who abuse alcohol and have a co-occurring infection or health issue that involves the liver have an even higher risk of developing a dangerous liver condition.

On average, consuming more than two drinks on a daily basis puts you at risk for liver disease.

Symptoms that could be caused by liver disease include :

  • Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Swelling in legs and ankles
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • The tendency to bruise easily
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fever
  • Disorientation
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale, bloody, or tar-colored stool

These symptoms can resemble a lot of health conditions, so if you are experiencing any of the above and also drink more than the recommended amount, be sure to talk to your doctor about the possibility of liver damage. 

Complications of Liver Disease

For those who continue to drink, the prognosis for any liver condition will worsen. The longer the individual drinks, the more serious complications will become. 

Alcoholic hepatitis can lead to hepatic encephalopathy which occurs when there is a mass buildup of toxins in the body. This level of toxicity can reach the brain and lead to coma, stroke, and death. Prognosis will also worsen if you develop cirrhosis. This condition itself is considered life-threatening. 

Treatment Options for Liver Disease 

Liver disease isn’t only caused by alcohol consumption, but drinking more than the daily recommended amount increases your chances of developing a liver condition by more than 50%. Depending on the severity of your liver disease, there are some treatment options available.

The main goal of treatment plans for liver disease includes repairing the damage already done to the liver, and then strengthening it so it can process more toxins. 

Treatment for early diagnosed fatty liver disease is typically achieved through a combination of nutritional and lifestyle changes, along with quitting drinking completely. This will include drinking more water, developing an exercise routine, and replacing fatty foods with lean meats,  fruits, and vegetables. 

More serious conditions like hepatitis and cirrhosis require a much more complex treatment plan. These plans will likely include medications to reduce high levels of inflammation in your liver to help it run more smoothly. Alongside these medications, your doctor may also recommend a variety of holistic supplements. Holistic supplements will be easier on the body and less taxing than intense medications since everything needs to pass through the liver to get to the blood.

Some supplements that are helpful for liver conditions include:

  • NAC
  • Artichoke Leaf
  • Turmeric Root. 
  • Dandelion Root
  • Yellow Dock Root
  • Beetroot
  • Ginger
  • Milk Thistle 

Always check with your primary doctor before trying supplements to be sure they are safe to take with any health conditions or pre-existing prescriptions. 

If you have end-stage or serious liver failure, you may need a liver transplant. Liver transplants require alcohol abstinence for at least six months prior to the transplant. 

Treating Alcoholism: Detox, Treatment, and Therapy

When it comes to treating alcoholism, it’s important to consider the components of a good treatment program. If you are suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD), there are many treatment options and resources available.

As you begin treatment, it’s likely that you will start with a detox program. This process will help to cleanse your body from the toxins of alcohol and any other harmful substances. Then, you will continue your treatment process by engaging in various therapies and holistic treatments.

You may take part in group therapy in order to gain more interpersonal skills and develop a support system. Individual therapy will also be a part of your treatment. Through this type of therapy, you can discuss any challenges and difficulties you are experiencing. Your therapist can help walk you through the healing process and help you to establish relapse prevention methods.

Also, the journey to recovery may include family counseling, which can help you and your family to learn more about and work through the effects of alcoholism.

Get Treatment for Alcohol Abuse Disorder Today

Liver damage can pose life-threatening health concerns that may or may not be responsive to treatment. To truly prevent the development of liver disease, it’s important to stop drinking and begin the path to sobriety. At The Discovery Institute, our trained professionals can help you get the best treatment to ensure you can live a sober life. Call us today at (844) 433-1101  for more information about our recovery and prevention programs.  

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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