Alcohol abuse can wide range of serious health issues, some of which are irreversible. Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure, depression and anxiety, heart disease and various cancers, as well as liver disease.
One of the most common, and preventable, alcohol-related health risks is Alcoholic Liver Disease.
What is Alcoholic Liver Disease?
The liver is a large organ located on the right side of the body, just above the stomach and right kidney. It’s primary function is filtration of chemicals and toxins from the blood, which are excreted through either the intestine or the kidneys.
Alcoholic liver disease, also called alcohol-related liver disease, is a progressive condition caused by alcohol consumption. When an individual drinks more alcohol than the liver can process, the liver becomes damaged, and it can no longer perform it’s regular, life-sustaining functions.
There are three stages of alcoholic liver disease:
- Fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis
The First Signs of Alcohol-Induced Liver Damage
Contrary to what you might expect, the first signs of liver damage from alcohol, don’t actually present in the liver.
At the first stage of the disease, fat builds up inside the liver cells, a condition known as Fatty Liver, also called Alcohol-Related Steatohepatisis, or ASH. The accumulation of fat causes inflammation of the liver, which makes it hard for the liver to function properly.
Common Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease
While some people with early-stage alcoholic liver disease are symptom-free, those who do have symptoms may experience:
- Discomfort in the upper-right side of the abdomen that’s caused by swelling of the liver
- Unexplained fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nausea, vomiting and indigestion
- Lack of appetite
- Dark stool
- Bleeding gums
- Agitation and/or confusion
- Pain and/or numbness in the arms or legs
- Excessive breast tissue and shrunken testicles (in men)
Once the disease progresses to the next stage, alcoholic hepatitis, the above symptoms are often combined with jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and the white area of the eyes.
How Much Alcohol Consumption Leads to Liver Damage?
According to the UK’s National Health Service, alcoholic fatty liver disease can occur following just a few days of heavy drinking. This means that individuals who consider themselves to be social drinkers, or who binge drink, are just as likely to develop liver problems as someone who drinks alcohol daily.
How Is Alcholic Liver Disease Diagnosed and Treated?
Alcoholic liver disease is diagnosed through a series of medical procedures, including a physical exam, ultrasounds, blood tests, liver function testing and in some cases, a biopsy of the liver.
When identified in it’s early stages, alcoholic liver disease is usually treated in conjunction with an alcohol addiction treatment program. The single most-effective way to treat alcohol-induced fatty liver is abstenence from alcohol, and early treatment can lead to a complete reversal of the damaged caused by alcohol consumption.
Other treatments may include lifestyle modifications to address alcohol-related nutritional deficiencies, and an increase in physical activity. Those with advanced liver disease may need ongoing medications, and in severe cases, liver transplatation.
Where to Get Help
With support from the right treatment program, liver damage from alcohol can be reversed, and patients can learn how to get, and stay, sober.
To learn more, contact our alcohol addiction specialists here at Baystate Recovery Center.