How does alcohol abuse affects the liver?

Excessive drinking can have damaging effects on your body. While drinking socially is pretty common, it’s important to understand when you’re drinking too much and how it can affect your overall health and liver function.

What’s considered excessive depends on factors such as:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Overall health

While there’s no exact answer as to how much is too much, doctors generally recommend no more than two drinks per day.

Learn more about living donor liver donation.

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Alcohol and Liver Function

The liver is one of the most important organs in your body, performing different functions including:

  • Processing blood
  • Breaking down nutrients and chemicals in the blood
  • Filtering waste
  • Producing proteins for blood plasma
  • Regulating blood clotting

Alcohol is filtered through the liver, but there is a limit to how much your liver can process. Having too much alcohol in your body makes it difficult for your liver to perform its necessary functions.

Drinking too much alcohol damages the liver, preventing or inhibiting it from doing its job.

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Consuming significant amounts of alcohol puts you at risk of developing different types of liver disease, including alcoholic liver disease.

The three stages of alcoholic liver disease are:

  • Fatty liver disease: In this stage, extra fat builds up in the liver. This can be reversed when drinking is stopped.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: As liver damage progresses, liver tissue becomes inflamed. If left untreated and drinking continues, this stage can lead to permanent liver damage.
  • Cirrhosis: In the final stage, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue — a condition that cannot be reversed.

Treatment for Liver Damage

When liver damage becomes permanent, treatment will be necessary. While there are medicines that can help treat underlying causes and prevent more damage, medicines cannot cure the disease or reverse the damage.

At this point, it is very important to stop drinking, maintain a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet, and continually monitor your health.

Liver Transplant as an Option

If liver failure, liver cancer, or a chronic diagnosis occurs, a transplant may be the only option. In most cases, liver transplants are performed using livers from deceased donors. However, another viable option is a living-donor liver transplant. Because of the liver’s unique ability to regenerate or regrow, someone can donate a portion of their healthy liver for transplant.

During a living-donor liver transplant, a surgeon removes part of the donor’s liver and transplants it into the recipient to replace the damaged liver. Living donation is a life-saving option that allows patients to spend less time waiting for a deceased-donor liver.

For many patients on the liver transplant waiting list, asking for help can be the most challenging part of finding a living donor. Be sure to talk to your family and friends about living donation.

Sources

http://www.upmc.com/Services/liver-cancer/liver/Pages/alcohol-liver.aspx

http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/behavioral-health/Pages/alcohol-facts.aspx

https://liverfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Alcohol-At-A-Glance.pdf

http://www.upmc.com/Services/liver-cancer/liver/Pages/function-liver.aspx

http://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/liver/living-donor/benefits-risks