What Happens If Your Liver's Affected by Alcohol?

Located under your rib cage, the liver is the second largest organ in your body with an overall weight of up to three pounds. Your liver has many roles to play in your body. It processes everything you drink or eat and turns it into energy and nutrients to keep your body functioning at its best. The liver is also responsible for eliminating harmful substances from your blood. Due to the size of your liver, it is quite possible to have no knowledge about the fact that your liver is in fact damaged. You notice symptoms when things become quite serious. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to liver damage.

What Happens After Your Liver's Affected by Alcohol?

Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is a term used to refer to different conditionsrelated to the liver and alcohol use. It usually starts with fatty liver and turns into hepatitis when people do not stop drinking, and often ends in cirrhosis and permanent liver damage. Cirrhosis is the most prevalent condition but all three disorders can occur at the same time.

Stage 1: Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

You develop this condition when there is fat buildup in liver cells that is more than 5-10% of your liver weight. It is usually the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease, and there are no clear symptoms.Some people may experience symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, and discomfort.

Although liver enzymes are elevated, they do not usually show on tests of liver function. Abstinence of alcohol helps reverse the disease.

Stage 2: Alcoholic Hepatitis

You develop this condition when you have fat deposition in liver cells as well as mild scarring and inflammation in the liver. The most common symptoms are nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, and jaundice. In severe cases, you may also experience one of the following:

  • Ascites, when fluid accumulates in the abdomen
  • Changes to behavior or confusion caused by toxins buildup after your liver's affected by alcohol and lost the ability to function normally to eliminate harmful substances
  • Malnutrition as a result of long period of poor appetite

Your liver function test may give abnormal results. About 35% of heavy drinkers end up developing alcoholic hepatitis and more than half of these already have cirrhosis. Severe alcoholic hepatitis can cause serious complications and may result in liver failure and death.

Stage 3: Alcoholic Cirrhosis

It is the most advanced stage of alcoholic liver disease. It changes the normal structure of the liver through severe scarring. Scar tissue develops that replace soft healthy tissue. The symptoms are usually similar to alcoholic hepatitis such as jaundice, itchiness and portal hypertension, but the condition is not reversible with abstinence.

How does Alcohol Affect Your Liver?

When you drink too much alcohol, you are likely to develop liver disease. In most cases, it leads to irreparable damage. If your liver's affected by alcohol, you may be wondering what causes this damage.

It actually happens due to a toxic enzyme called acetaldehyde that is produced when alcohol reaches your liver. This damage can cause permanent scarring along with harm to your brain and stomach lining.

Your liver cannot function properly if there isn't enough water in your body. As alcohol acts as a diuretic in your body and causes dehydration, it makes things difficult for your liver to handle. It is mainly due to severe dehydration that you wake up with a severe headache after a big night of drinking. Moreover, there may be a change in how your body metabolizes alcohol if you drink regularly and heavily. This may leave you alcohol liver disease.

How Much Alcohol Can You Drink?

It is better to avoid alcohol, but if you really want it, be sure to drink in moderation. You should have only one drink if you are older than age 65, and no more than two drinks if you are younger than age 65. It is also important to keep in mind that one drink means 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Treating Alcohol Related Liver Disease

The treatment after your liver's affected by alcohol requires two approaches. First, you need to quit drinking right away because abstinence is of immense importance. Secondly, you will have to take medications to prevent damage and improve your liver health. In case you have alcohol related liver disease, your doctor may recommend the following:

  • They may ask you to follow an alcoholic rehabilitation program such as Alcoholics Anonymous that helps you stop drinking when you cannot seem to do it on your own.
  • They may ask you to take multivitamins. You are B-complex deficient when you drink heavily. This may lead to malnutrition and anemia. You may also be vitamin-A deficient when drinking a lot. Taking multivitamins will prevent these complications.
  • They may recommend liver transplant. This usually happens when your liver fails to function properly due to cirrhosis.

While it is important to follow your doctor's advice, you need to ensure that you do not take vitamin A and alcohol together. Your first goal needs to be alcohol abstinence, and only then, you can take multivitamins and supplements to improve your liver health.

Tips to Protect Your Liver If You Drink

As mentioned, your liver is a robust organ and can handle alcohol in moderation. It means you can protect your liver from damage by drinking in moderation. Here're some tips to help you protect your liver and avoid dealing with side effects after your liver's affected by alcohol.

  • Be very careful when drinking in social gatherings. Keeping up "drink for drink" with others is only going to create a tolerance for alcohol and make you drink more.
  • Do not think that one form of drink is less harmful than the other. It is the amount of alcohol that really matters, not the types.
  • Never combine medication and alcohol – the combination of alcohol and acetaminophen can lead to liver failure.
  • Do not let peer pressure to make you drink more, especially if you are a woman because women tend to absorb more alcohol as compared to men.
  • Never involve in "drinking games" because this encourages excessive consumption of alcohol.
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