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Alcohol can take a severe toll on your health. For example, alcohol misuse can do damage to your liver and cause alcoholic liver disease.5
Alcoholic liver disease is a health condition that can occur after years of heavy drinking. When you drink heavily over a long period, scarring and cirrhosis can occur. Cirrhosis refers to the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.5
While not everyone who misuses alcohol will develop alcoholic liver disease, your chances increase the longer you drink and the more alcohol you consume.5
While alcoholic liver disease is common in people between 40 and 50 years old, men are more likely to have it than women. That said, women may develop alcoholic liver disease with less exposure to alcohol than men. Anyone with a family history of liver disease is at a higher risk for it.5 Diet, gender, age, race, and co-occurring liver conditions also affect your risk.6
If you are concerned that you may have alcoholic liver disease, your doctor will likely perform a blood test, take a biopsy of your liver, and perform a function test of your liver.5 They may also run other tests to rule out other possible health conditions.
If you do indeed have alcoholic liver disease, symptoms will vary depending on the severity of it.
Generally, the symptoms of alcohol-induced liver disease include:5
If you are suffering from liver damage, you should quit drinking alcohol completely.5
Of course, it may not be easy to stop drinking if you struggle with alcohol use disorder. Reach out for professional medical advice to safely cut back on or quit your alcohol intake. Addiction treatment from licensed medical professionals is available.
How much alcohol is too much varies from person to person. Various factors play into how alcohol affects different people including age, weight, gender, and more.
To avoid drinking too much alcohol, you should drink in moderation. Generally, this means no more than one drink a day for women or a maximum of two drinks a day for men.1
Alcohol misuse can lead to three types of liver conditions:
Up to 35 percent of people with alcohol-induced liver damage develop alcoholic hepatitis, Meanwhile, between 10 and 20 percent of them go on to develop cirrhosis.3
Your liver is an important organ. It sits under your ribs on the right side of your abdomen. And it helps to filter your body’s waste, make bile so you can digest food, store sugar to give you energy, make proteins, and more.2
Alcoholic liver disease can damage these functions. While it may be treatable if you catch it early, severe liver damage may be irreversible and lead to other health complications.
These include, but are not limited to:2
Currently, there are not any FDA-approved pharmacological or nutritional therapies to treat alcoholic liver disease.7 If you have fatty liver disease, you should stop drinking alcohol completely and eat a healthy, low-salt diet. Lifestyle changes are critical.8
You should also talk to your healthcare provider about medications. These might include diuretics to get rid of fluid buildup, Vitamin K or blood medications to prevent bleeding, and antibiotics to treat infections, among others.2 Healthcare professionals also recommend that you get vaccinated to protect your liver from viruses like hepatitis.8
Your doctor may also explore endoscopic treatments if you have enlarged esophagus veins, or they may have to remove any fluid buildup from your abdomen.
In some cases, the placement of a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) is necessary to decrease portal hypertension, a very serious complication of liver failure. And in severe cases, a liver transplant is also necessary. But this is only possible for those who have successfully stayed away from alcohol for at least six months.2
How long it takes for your liver to repair from alcohol misuse depends on the severity of the damage. If you are still in the early stages of damage, it may take a few days, weeks, or months for your liver to recover. In cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease, liver damage cannot be repaired.
Prolonged alcohol misuse (over years) can significantly inhibit your liver’s ability to regenerate.
A month of no alcohol can help your liver regenerate if the damage done is not too severe. If you have liver damage from drinking alcohol, you should stop drinking for longer than a month. Complete alcohol withdrawal can cure alcoholic hepatitis and fatty liver disease, the first two stages in liver damage.
How long it takes your body to heal from alcohol depends on a few factors, including how much and how often you drink, how chronic your alcohol use is, your age, weight, gender, and more. All of these can influence the way alcohol affects you.
The amount of time your body requires to heal also depends on the damage alcohol has done. Heavy drinking can damage your liver, stomach, brain, heart, and entire central nervous system.
Continued alcohol use increases your risk of several cancers (mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, and, for women, breast cancer). And it can weaken your immune system, which can lead to a wealth of health complications.1
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use disorder, know the signs and seek professional help. You are not alone.
About 61 million Americans were identified as binge drinkers, and 16 million were classified as heavy alcohol users in 2014.4 Alcohol use disorder can be a deadly disease if you don’t treat it.
The symptoms of alcohol use disorder generally include:1
If you or someone you know is dealing with alcohol use disorder, you do not have to navigate the road to recovery alone.
Treatment options are available, including:1
Consult your primary care physician and mental health professionals about the best treatment options for you. And get help before it’s too late.
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