What Is Alcoholic Liver Disease?
Liver disease as a result of alcohol abuse transpires after years of continually drinking too much alcohol. The longer the person abuses alcohol, the greater the risk of developing alcoholic liver disease. A severe condition known as alcoholic hepatitis also occurs when people binge drink. Alcoholic hepatitis can be life-threatening.
When drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis, malnutrition is often the result, with loss of appetite and insufficient digestion of nutrients from the intestinal tract.
Are All Heavy Drinkers Affected by Alcoholic Liver Disease?
Not all heavy drinkers are affected by alcoholic liver disease. Women who drink heavily, however, are more vulnerable to alcoholic liver disease than men. Nonetheless, men should continue to be cautious of drinking too much alcohol because heavy consumption creates a great risk for the disease.
Liver Damage Related to Alcohol Use
When liver damage occurs, it starts with inflammation of the liver and progresses to a condition that creates fatty liver (steatosis). The final stage of liver damage is cirrhosis, which has serious complications such as alcoholic encephalopathy, which is brain damage, and portal hypertension (high blood pressure within the liver).
Symptoms of Liver Disease Associated with Alcohol Use
Approximately 50 percent of people who have liver disease do not show any signs of the disease. The most common symptom is sporadic itching, extreme tiredness and a lack of drive. However, these symptoms can be caused by many other conditions. The signs of liver disease that are indicative of liver disease include complications such as jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), dark urine, whitish or light-colored bowel movements, mental confusion, fluid retention in the abdomen and hemorrhaging (bleeding) from the gastrointestinal tract.
How Much Is Too Much?
It is important to understand that alcohol is a poison, and any amount of alcohol (small or large) can produce damage to the liver. Therefore, in a healthy person with no risk of having liver problems, the amount of alcohol that can safely be consumed varies. Men metabolize alcohol more efficiently than women as a result of body size, enzymes and body fat. Therefore, some researchers attest that safe alcohol consumption for women is one to two drinks per day; for a man, it's three to four drinks within a 24-hour period. However, each individual's susceptibility to alcohol is different.
It is extremely important to realize that neither the liver nor the body make a distinction among alcoholic beverages. Wine and beer are no safer than whiskey or spirits.
If a person already has a liver condition like hepatitis B or C, for example, or some other alcohol-related liver damage or other disease, then the liver is especially sensitive to even the smallest quantity of alcohol. The safest alcohol dosage, in cases like this, is zero.
Can Liver Disease Be Reversed?
The liver is the only organ in the human body that can completely regenerate itself when damage occurs. If advanced and severe liver damage has not yet occurred, the liver will generally regenerate and reverse any damage. Therefore, if a person who drinks too much stops drinking before receiving severe liver damage, the beginning stages of liver disease may be reversed and the liver can be healed completely.