How Alcohol Affects the Liver

The liver is the largest organ of the body, weighing 3.3 pounds. It occupies the upper right—and part of the left—section of the abdomen. The functions of the liver are essential to life. As the metabolic crossroads of the body, the liver filters circulating blood, removing and destroying toxic substances. It secretes bile into the small intestine to help digest fats and render them soluble for absorption.

Nutrients are carried from the small intestine through the portal vein directly to the liver, which then synthesizes cholesterol, metabolizes or stores sugars, processed fats, stores vitamins, and assembles proteins for use within the liver or elsewhere. The liver also converts the products of protein metabolism into urea for excretion by the kidneys. In addition, it regulates blood-clotting mechanisms. The liver can mobilize a chemical and cellular arsenal for self-protection. Fortunately, the liver’s ability to regenerate helps this important organ survive the wear and tear of a lifetime.

How Alcohol Affects the Liver

How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver?

Traditionally, there are three conditions that have been considered sequentially related to chronic alcoholism, progressing from fatty liver to alcoholic hepatitis to cirrhosis. However, heavy drinkers may develop alcoholic cirrhosis without first developing hepatitis. Moreover, alcoholic hepatitis may have a sudden onset and a rapid course, causing death before cirrhosis can develop. An understanding of alcohol metabolism provides the basis for understanding alcohol-induced liver damage. Most of the alcohol that people drink is metabolized in the liver. The major pathway for alcohol metabolism involves the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme converts alcohol to acetaldehyde through a chemical process called oxidation.

What is Fatty Liver?

Some degree of fat deposition in the liver occurs in almost all heavy drinkers. It also may occur transiently in a nonalcoholic after a single drinking session. Fatty liver is reversible and is not believed to lead to more serious damage.

What is Alcoholic Hepatitis?

This disorder is characterized by widespread inflammation and destruction (i.e., necrosis) of liver tissue. Scar tissue may begin to replace healthy liver tissue, a process called fibrosis. Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis may include fever, jaundice, and abdominal pain. The condition can be fatal but may be reversible with abstinence. Alcoholic hepatitis occurs in up to 50 percent of heavy drinkers.

What is Alcoholic Cirrhosis?

The most advanced form of liver disease which is diagnosed in alcoholics is Cirrhosis. A cirrhotic liver is characterized by extensive fibrosis that stiffens blood vessels and distorts the internal structure of the liver. This structural damage results in severe functional impairment, which may lead secondarily to malfunction of other organs, such as the brain and kidneys. Although alcoholic cirrhosis is usually fatal because of complications (e.g., kidney failure and hypertension in the vein carrying blood to the liver [i.e., the portal vein]), it can stabilize with abstinence.

According to the National Institutes of Health:

You may have no signs or symptoms of cirrhosis until your liver is badly damaged.

Early symptoms of cirrhosis may include feeling tired or weak, poor appetite, losing weight without trying, nausea and vomiting, and mild pain or discomfort in the upper right side of your abdomen. As liver function gets worse, you may have other symptoms, including bruising and bleeding easily, confusion, difficulties thinking, memory loss, personality changes, or sleep disorders, swelling in your lower legs, ankles, or feet, called edema, bloating from buildup of fluid in your abdomen, called ascites, severe itchy skin, darkening of the color of your urine, and a yellowish tint to the whites of your eyes and skin, called jaundice.

How Can Allure Detox Help You with Alcoholism?

If you or someone you know is fighting with Alcoholism, Allure Detox provides a safe and comfortable environment for you to begin your journey in recovery. Our services meet the specific medical, mental, social, occupational, and family needs of our patients. We provide different therapies and treatments in order to maximize each person’s success by facing everyone’s health and happiness head-on. Our addiction professionals will help you plan your aftercare which includes but isn’t limited to outpatient therapy and residential treatment. Addiction isn’t easy to face. Luckily you do not have to face it on your own. Take the first step towards recovery by reaching out to one of our confidential professionals at Allure Detox.