Dealing with Alcohol-Related Liver Damage
Drinking is a common pastime. It elevates a special occasion, family outing, or even at dinner. Unfortunately, everyone who drinks doesn’t understand alcohol should only be consumed in moderation. Otherwise, overindulging in alcohol can have adverse side effects, including liver damage, cancer, and even death.
What is Binge Drinking?
The question on many people’s minds is: how many drinks are considered overindulging? This depends on a number of factors like body composition and gender. Generally, it’s easier for women to be intoxicated based on their naturally smaller builds.
Binge drinking is when someone’s blood alcohol concentration reaches 0.08 g/dl or higher. It takes about an hour for your liver to process one drink, depending on its alcohol content. Every additional drink extends the amount of time necessary to filter through your liver, resulting in intoxication. For men, this usually occurs by drinking at least five drinks and women drinking at least four drinks within a two hour period.
Women that consume eight drinks per week are considered heavy drinkers. For men, having 15 drinks a week makes them a heavy drinker. Drinking this much has adverse effects on the liver and other bodily functions. Binge drinking sessions for either gender further increase the likelihood of developing health conditions.
How much alcohol to damage liver functions?
Some people underestimate the side effects of drinking every day. In fact, consuming two or three drinks every day is enough to negatively impact liver function. Even one session of binge drinking can lead to liver damage.
Sometimes, it’s not about the amount of consumed alcohol, but the method. For instance, taking medication with alcohol also negatively impacts liver function. Drinking alcohol with medication can also be fatal. Before taking your medication with any form of alcohol, you must receive medical clearance.
Common Liver Damage Symptoms
Drinking in excess accelerates your chances of developing liver damage. Studies show that one out of every five heavy drinkers develops fatty liver disease. Genetic predisposition, as well as developing an infection, raise the probability of liver disease in heavy drinkers. Heavy drinkers are also at higher risk of alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, cancer, and death.
Liver damage should be diagnosed by a doctor, but there are symptoms to look out for, including:
- Severe fatigue
- Abnormal or blood-colored stool
- Leg and ankle swelling
- Dark urine
- Pain due to an enlarged liver
- Curled fingers
- Red palms
If you frequently experience one or more of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Liver Damage Diagnosis
Since nearly 15 percent of people that drink heavily develop liver cancer, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis as soon as you begin experiencing symptoms.
If you have a history of alcohol use, doctors usually tie your symptoms to alcohol-related liver disease. They’ll do a series of tests, including questionnaires, to determine the extent of your drinking. If possible, they’ll ask your families about your drinking habits.
Once they understand the extent of your drinking, they’ll begin blood and liver function tests to determine the extent of your liver damage. For example, if you receive an ultrasound and your liver is stiff, you may have fibrosis. Once they find one, they’ll continue to test for other liver conditions.
Liver Damage Treatment
If diagnosed early enough, some liver damage disorders can be reversed. For drinkers with little to no inflammation and no fibrosis have an easier time recovering. Fibrosis is the forming of large clusters of scar tissue within the liver as it produces extra cells in an attempt to heal itself.
Usually, fibrosis doesn’t present symptoms; however, it leads to diseases like cirrhosis, which has symptoms and eventually causes death.
For minor damage, abstinence is a strong solution. This treatment option is one of the only ways to slow and even reverse liver damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption. One of the greatest benefits is that abstaining from alcohol doesn’t present immediate symptoms.
If a patient struggles with abstinence, there are support systems available. You can participate in psycho or behavioral therapy, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or even meet with your private doctor to learn ways to stay on track.
In addition to abstinence, you can take medication. Some people cannot go long periods without drinking due to severe withdrawal symptoms. Drugs like naltrexone, baclofen, and acamprosate are known to reduce both the desire to drink and withdrawal. Speak to a healthcare professional prior to taking any medication, especially if you have preexisting health conditions or currently take medication.
Maintain Healthy Habits
You can also improve your overall wellness to get rid of withdrawal symptoms. For instance, maintaining a healthy, vitamin-rich diet makes you feel better, especially during the first few days of abstaining from alcohol.
B vitamins are especially necessary for regular drinkers. As little as two weeks of drinking impacts, brain function raises anemia risk, and even prohibits vitamin B absorption by the gastrointestinal tract. To increase vitamin B intake, add whole grains, dairy, eggs, and dark leafy vegetables. Be sure to eat lean meats and consume red meat in moderation.
If you still experience vitamin deficiency with a well-balanced diet, consider taking vitamin supplements. Milk thistle, turmeric root, ginger, and choline are great for liver damage and detoxification. Speak to your doctor before taking any supplements.
While some liver conditions are reversible through lifestyle changes like abstinence, severe liver damage requires drastic measures. Certain conditions, even if you refrain from drinking like fibrosis and cirrhosis, cannot be reversed. In severe cases, you may need a liver transplant to survive.
Heavy drinkers don’t automatically qualify for a liver transplant. In fact, drinkers must remain sober for at least six months to qualify. Once completed, you may have to take a corticosteroid so your body won’t reject the new liver. Typically, a liver transplant recipient can live at least an additional five years.
If you continue drinking after your transplant, you’re putting yourself at risk for liver damage again. If you’re tempted to drink afterward, seek professional help.
Alcohol is more than just an ingredient for a good time. In fact, building a dependency on alcohol has a negative impact on your liver health. If left unchecked, minor liver problems lead to major conditions like cancer and even death. If you like to drink, make sure it’s in moderation. Be sure to drink under the weekly limit to avoid liver damage.
Whether you’ve developed a liver condition or need help with beating your alcohol dependency, get help. Abstinence can be difficult, especially without support. You can seek counsel from your doctor, participate in behavioral therapy, or join groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Mild to moderate liver conditions can be cured with lifestyle changes like abstinence; however, major liver diseases like fibrosis are irreversible. If you require a liver transplant, be sure to refrain from drinking for at least six months and after surgery for a better chance of survival.
You can beat alcohol addiction, no matter how hard it may seem. Doing so makes it easier on your liver and prevents potentially fatal diseases.