Alcoholism and Liver Disease

Why We Love Our Livers

Believe it or not, the liver is the second largest organ in the human body – trumped only by the skin. Thus, the liver is the largestinternal organ, reigning in at about three pounds and shaped somewhat like a football that has been flattened on one side. The liver is located under the rib cage on the right side of the body, and performs a wide variety of crucial roles. The liver processes what we eat and drink and turns it into energy that our body uses to perform daily functions. The liver also transforms what we consume into vital nutrients, and works to remove potentially harmful toxins from our blood. Our livers are extremely important to our overall wellbeing – however, years of alcohol abuse can severely damage our precious organs.

Alcohol can destroy or severely damage liver cells. When we drink alcohol in small quantities, the liver has time to properly break down toxins and process out all of the bad stuff. When we consume more alcohol than our little livers can handle, we run the risk of damaging our livers severely and permanently. There are three main types of alcohol-related liver disease, each of which can cause major physical complications, and two of which can prove fatal.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Alcoholic fatty liver disease is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease, and it occurs when fat is deposited into the liver cells. The majority of heavy, regular drinkers will experience fatty liver disease at one point or another. There are usually no signs or symptoms, though those who continue drinking after the disease has developed may experience fatigue, general weakness, and abdominal discomfort. This disease can be reversed with continued abstinence, and poses no real threats unless left unaddressed for years and years.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Somewhere around 35% of alcoholic drinkers will develop alcoholic hepatitis, a serious disease that is characterized by inflammation and mild scarring of the liver, along with fat deposition similar to that which occurs in those suffering from fatty liver. Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, high fever, and jaundice. If left untreated, this disease can prove fatal. It is essential that those diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis seek treatment immediately if they feel as if they are unable to cease use on their own – abstinence is the only way to reverse the life-threatening effects.

Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Alcoholic cirrhosis is the most advanced and detrimental stage of liver disease. Cirrhosis is characterized by severe scarring of the liver; hard tissue replaces soft tissue and disrupts normal liver functioning. Somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis of the liver. Unfortunately, this disease is not reversible with successfully maintained abstinence. The only true treatment is a full-blown liver transplant, which is by far one of the most difficult medical procedures to arrange. According to federal data from the Organ Procurement and Transport Network, more than 16,000 American citizens are currently waiting to receive a new liver. Unfortunately, only about 6,000 livers become available each year, and nearly 2,000 individuals will die annually while waiting for a transplant.

Take Your Liver Seriously

No matter how badly your liver has been damaged, maintaining abstinence for a prolonged period of time will likely make a significant positive impact, facilitating self-reparation and allowing the liver to slowly rebuild itself over time. Of course, if you tend to drink alcoholically, simply deciding ‘enough is enough’ will likely not be enough to efficiently discontinue use. If you drink like we drank, even the threat of fatal illness will not be motivation enough to put down the drink. If you find you cannot quick drinking on self-will alone, help is available. Please call Next Chapter for a comprehensive list of available treatment options.