Over time alcohol addiction can produce three liver conditions: fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis. These conditions interfere with the key functions of this vital organ which is needed to remove poisons and toxins from the body as well as: processing fats and carbohydrates, storing glycogen and breaking it down into glucose for energy when needed by the body, making proteins necessary for blood to clot, making bile required to digest fats, and processing medications that a person may be taking. There is no substitute for the liver; if it dies the whole body dies. The last resort is a liver transplant which may be difficult to obtain.
The Impact of Heavy Alcohol Consumption on the Body
In addition to serious liver problems such as alcoholic liver disease (ALD), heavy drinking increases a person’s risk of incurring:
- Stomach disorders
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Certain cancers, including mouth, liver, colon and breast cancer
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Nerve tissue damage
- Damage to babies in the womb
- Sexual difficulties
- Accidents including road accidents, falls and fires
Clearly, the harms caused by alcohol addiction are so numerous and serious that major efforts to intervene and provide help are merited.
Specific Effects of Alcohol Addiction on the Liver
Consuming too much alcohol over time can lead to alcoholic liver disease (ALD). There are three manifestations of ALD:
- Fatty liver, which can develop into hepatitis
- Hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver and can range from mild to very severe and can even be fatal
- Cirrhosis, or gradual scarring of the liver which reduces its ability to function well and can lead to liver failure and death, or require a liver transplant which may or may not be available in time.
An alcoholic can have one or all three conditions at one time. The way to address these conditions is to stop drinking alcohol completely, and learn proper nutrition. Most alcoholics consume so many calories through alcohol that they develop poor eating habits and don’t get the nutrition they need.
Definition of Excessive Alcohol Use
In the U.S. “heavy drinking” is defined as having more than two drinks a day for men or more than one drink a day for women, on a regular basis. A standard drink is one that contains 13.7 grams or 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. A single alcoholic drink is any one of the following:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces (a shot) of distilled spirits such as gin, rum, whiskey, or vodka
“Binge drinking” is another form of alcohol abuse and consists of consuming five or more drinks by men on a single occasion, or four or more drinks by women on a single occasion.
Serious alcoholics binge drink every day!
How to Avoid Liver Damage from Alcohol
People who drink alcohol regularly should have complete physicals and blood work annually to catch any liver damage early. They should also truthfully share with their doctor the amount of alcohol they consume. They then need to follow the advice of their doctor or enter rehab if they can’t comply with medical advice. Often, detoxification is a necessary step in helping someone who has an alcohol addiction.
The way to avoid liver damage from alcohol is to avoid heavy drinking and binge drinking. Limiting one’s drinking to only one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men plus having two or more days a week with no alcohol at all establishes the habit of moderation and control.
For help in the U.S. there is a National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Service which can provide information on treatment programs in your local community. Their phone is 1-800-662-HELP.
Alcohol Addiction Must Be Overcome to Save the Liver
The liver and its functions are vital for health and life itself. Alcohol seriously damages the liver over time and alcohol addiction can lead to fatal liver disease. The key to saving the liver is to help an alcoholic overcome his or her addiction to alcohol, whatever it takes. If the drinking can’t be stopped health will be ruined, life will be shortened and others may be hurt by the alcoholic along the way