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Alcohol-Related Liver Problems

Alcohol-related liver problems are unfortunately common among people with chronic drinking problems. In the U.S., over half of adults regularly consume alcohol, and 7.4% of drinkers abuse it. A common issue developed after regular drinking is an alcohol-induced liver disease (ALD). ALD occurs after years of excessive alcohol consumption. It is also influenced by genetics and the environment. The condition affects about 15% of Americans who are considered heavy drinkers.

Alcohol-Induced Liver Disease (ALD)

Alcohol-induced liver disease is also known as alcoholic liver disease (ALD). It prevents the liver from functioning normally and triggers inflammation or swelling. Over the years, it can lead to scarring or cirrhosis, and even death. The condition usually affects men since they typically consume more alcohol than women. However, women are twice as likely to develop ALD than men if they are heavy alcohol consumers. There are 3 types of alcohol-related liver problems.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Alcoholic fatty liver disease is also known as alcoholic steatohepatitis. It is a condition where fat builds up in the liver. It is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease and the most common ALD. The condition causes the organ to enlarge, making it harder for the liver to work. People with a high body mass index are at a higher risk of developing ALD. Alcoholic fatty liver disease symptoms include:

– Upper abdominal discomfort on the right side of the body

– Fatigue

– Weight loss

Drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to alcoholic fatty liver disease, even for just a few days. But it is usually reversible with abstinence. 

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is the second stage of ALD. It can occur in people who have been drinking heavily for years and even in people who drink moderately. It is a long term inflammation of the liver that leads to liver cell damage. Many individuals with alcoholic hepatitis have poor diets and rely on alcohol for most of their calories. Over time this dependence leads to a build-up of toxins (usually removed by the liver). The disease is often followed by permanent scarring or cirrhosis. Its severity can range from asymptomatic changes to liver failure and death. 

Typical symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upper abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Malnutrition
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Confusion 
  • Behavior changes 
  • Kidney and liver failure

People diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis should stop the consumption of alcohol immediately. 

Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Alcoholic cirrhosis is the final stage of ALD. It is an outcome of severe and prolonged liver damage. The condition causes the liver to become stiff, swollen, and barely function. The organ’s healthy tissue is replaced with scar tissue and abnormal lumps. This drastic change can increase blood pressure (portal hypertension) within the body. Over time if untreated, the disease can lead to liver failure. The American Liver Foundation predicts that, on average, 15% of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis. 

Typical symptoms of alcoholic cirrhosis include all the signs of alcoholic hepatitis as well as: 

  • Enlarged spleen
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Ascites (fluid build-up in the belly)
  • Liver cancer

Cirrhosis is considered irreversible. People diagnosed with the disease should stop the consumption of alcohol immediately. 

Preventing Alcohol-Induced Liver Disease (ALD)

Preventing ALD is a major public health concern. The liver is one of the most complex and necessary organs within the human body. It filters toxins from the blood, helps digest food, and regulates the body. By lowering alcohol consumption or abstaining, ALD is preventable and even reversible during its early stages. 

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction

Unfortunately, within the last decade, alcohol use disorders have increased dramatically. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of alcohol use worldwide. The nation’s social acceptance of drinking makes it harder for individuals to quit alcohol, but there is hope. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, there is help available. There are many addiction treatment centers designed to support you or your loved one on your journey. Increase your chances of a full recovery, and contact a treatment provider today to discuss available rehab options.