Most of us enjoy a cold beer after a hard day's work or a glass of wine at a party. It's a common way to relax and socialize.

But have you ever wondered what happens inside your body when you drink alcohol? Specifically, what it does to one of our body's hardest workers - the liver?

Let's get into it!

Alcohol abuse can be destructive to the body. In fact, according to the Journal of Hepatology, more than 2.4 million deaths result from harmful alcohol use annually.

In this article, we'll discuss the various effects of alcohol on the liver, the stages and symptoms of liver disease and preventive measures to take

How Does The Liver Process Alcohol

To understand the effects of alcohol on the liver, it’s necessary to grasp how the liver processes alcohol.

When a person takes alcohol, it gets absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and intestines to reach the liver, where it gets broken down. Less than 10% of the absorbed alcohol leaves the body through breath, sweat and urine, and the remaining 90% goes to the liver. It takes the liver about an hour to process up to an ounce of alcohol, leaving the system saturated when there’s much more than an ounce.

The liver breaks down most alcohol and then removes it from the body. However, this process creates harmful substances, and large amounts of these substances damage the liver cells in the long run.

Effects of Alcohol on the Liver

One of the early consequences of excessive alcohol consumption is alcoholic fatty liver disease, involving excessive fat buildup in the liver cells. If alcohol abuse continues, it progresses to alcoholic hepatitis, which involves inflammation and swelling of the liver. Cirrhosis is the most advanced stage of alcohol-related liver disease, where extensive scarring replaces healthy liver tissue.

  • Fatty Liver Disease
    Most heavy drinkers develop fatty liver. It’s the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease, where fat accumulates in the liver cells. Although people with fatty liver often don't have symptoms, some may experience a slightly swollen liver or mild discomfort in the upper right side of their belly. The good news is that it can be prevented, and if caught early, it’s reversible. The best treatment is for the person to stop drinking alcohol altogether.
  • Alcohol Hepatitis
    Alcoholic hepatitis affects the liver, making it swollen and inflamed. It ranges from mild to severe, and patients may experience symptoms like yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), fever, and pain in the belly. The mild form of alcoholic hepatitis lasts a long time and causes more harm to the liver if the person continues drinking. Severe alcoholic hepatitis usually occurs after prolonged heavy drinking and can be life-threatening.
  • Cirrhosis
    Heavy drinkers have a 10%–20% chance of developing cirrhosis. It’s a serious condition where scar tissue replaces the liver tissue and slowly decreases its functionality. It usually develops after ten years or more and may not show symptoms until there's significant damage to the liver. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure or liver cancer.

Non-alcoholic risk factors of liver diseases

Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing liver disease. However, certain factors increase your risk even further:

  • Genetics:
    Some people may have genetic variations that make them more vulnerable to liver damage caused by alcohol. Understanding your genetic predisposition can help in making informed decisions regarding alcohol consumption.
  • Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome:
    Obesity and metabolic syndrome, characterized by high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess body fat, can increase the risks of alcohol-related liver diseases.
  • Lack of Regular Medical Check-ups - Regular monitoring of liver function can help identify early signs of liver diseases caused by alcohol. This early detection allows for timely intervention and the possibility of preventing further liver damage.

Other factors include; aging, poor nutrition, and existing health conditions.

Managing the effects

Moderation is key in alcohol consumption, and knowing your limits for safe drinking is important. Maintaining a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables while minimising processed foods can help support liver health. Regular exercise also benefits overall well-being and helps in maintaining a healthy liver. Routine check-ups and screenings also allow for early detection and intervention when there’s a suspicion of liver damage.

Balanced Life, Healthy Liver

While alcohol may be a normal part of our social life, it is essential to recognise its potential harm to the liver. Understanding the impact of alcohol on the liver can help you and your loved ones make informed decisions about alcohol consumption.

You can take proactive steps to guard your liver’s health by consuming alcohol in moderation, adopting a healthy lifestyle and speaking to a doctor on North.