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Can Liver Damage Be Reversed? Signs of Liver Damage Caused by Alcoholism

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Excessive drinking is linked to a wide range of serious health-related issues, from the development of physical dependence to permanent damage to the liver and other vital organs. One of the most severe and potentially life-threatening consequences of long-term alcohol misuse is liver damage, which ranges in severity and progressively worsens the longer alcoholism is left untreated. There are three main types of alcohol-related liver damage: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcohol-related cirrhosis. According to the American Liver Foundation, these diseases are both common and preventable, and alcohol contributes to between 20 percent and 25 percent of liver cirrhosis cases. When it comes to more severe cases of alcoholism, nearly all heavy, long-time drinkers will develop some degree of fatty liver disease. Roughly 35 percent develop alcoholic hepatitis and between 10 and 20 percent develop alcohol-related liver damage in its most severe form; alcoholic cirrhosis.

If you have recently been diagnosed with liver damage and you know your newly developing medical condition is directly related to the amount of alcohol you consume, you might be wondering what steps you can take to heal on a physical level. Can liver damage be reversed? If you have been drinking heavily but you have not yet been diagnosed with alcohol-related liver damage, you might be wondering which signs and symptoms you should keep an eye out for. How can you tell if drinking is doing potentially permanent damage to your physical body? At Guardian Recovery we have extensive experience treating alcohol use disorders of all types and severities. It is important to remember alcoholism is a progressive medical condition, and the longer it is left untreated, the more severe related symptoms will become. To learn more about alcohol-related liver damage and our highly individualized and comprehensive program of alcohol addiction recovery, contact us today.

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What is Alcohol-Related Liver Disease?

Alcohol-related liver disease is always caused by heavy drinking. However, the impact alcohol has on the physical body varies on a person-to-person basis. Some people drink heavily for years with little to no consequence; others drink heavily for several months before experiencing health-related complications. What exactly is the liver, and what function does it serve?

The liver is a large vital organ that sits on the right side of the abdomen, under the ribcage. The liver performs several vital functions, including:

  • Storing sugar which the body converts and uses as an energy source.
  • Producing bile which helps food digest and metabolize.
  • Filtering waste from the body.
  • Storing nutrients like glucose as well as some essential vitamins.
  • Making proteins which work in numerous ways throughout the body, like helping blood to clot and preventing a person from bleeding excessively.
  • Breaking down alcohol (and other chemical substances) and removing it from the bloodstream.

When you drink alcohol it passes directly through the liver, which breaks it down and helps to prevent alcohol toxicity. If you consume more alcohol than the liver can process, it can become severely damaged. Fatty liver disease can happen to any person who consumes an excessive amount of alcohol on a somewhat regular basis. In most cases, fatty liver disease can be reversed with prolonged sobriety. Alcoholic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis typically only develop in chronic alcoholics. These two conditions are more difficult to effectively treat. This is part of the reason why it is so crucial to treat alcoholism as soon as it begins to develop.

What Are the Early Signs of Liver Damage from Alcohol?

When it comes to alcohol-related liver damage, there are a variety of early signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for. If you catch the signs before liver damage progresses to liver disease, the better your chances of making a full recovery. When you consume more alcohol than your liver can break down, this excess alcohol is stored as fat in the liver itself. Over time the liver becomes inflamed and scar tissue begins to build up. It can be relatively difficult to pinpoint alcohol-related liver damage early on, seeing as many people do not begin experiencing related symptoms until damage progresses to disease. However, it is a good idea to look for:

  • Excessive fatigue and tiredness, despite getting enough sleep every evening.
  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss coupled with a loss of appetite.
  • Gastrointestinal distress, which might include nausea and vomiting.
  • Pain or discomfort on the upper right side of your abdomen (caused by inflammation of the liver).

Many people who develop fatty liver disease do not experience any symptoms until the condition has progressed. If you have been struggling to control your alcohol consumption, we recommend reaching out for some degree of professional addiction treatment.

If your alcohol use disorder has not yet progressed and you have not suffered any major personal consequences as a direct result of your drinking habits, rehab might not be necessary. You might benefit just as much from a PHP or IOP program. Contact us today to learn more about which level of clinical care is right for you.

What Can Happen to Your Liver if You Drink Too Much Alcohol?

When you drink too much alcohol, your body struggles to keep up. If you drink minimal amounts of alcohol on rare occasions, your body can typically process this toxic substance and remove it from your system before it produces any negative health effects. However, if you consume a large quantity of alcohol for an extended period of time you are at high risk of developing alcohol-related liver damage. There are three main types of alcohol-related liver damage:

  • Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease – Also known as hepatic steatosis, alcoholic fatty liver disease is the first stage of alcohol-related liver damage. Fat starts to accumulate in the liver and it is estimated that roughly 90 percent of heavy drinkers will develop fatty liver in some capacity. If you catch alcoholic fatty liver disease, the condition can typically be reversed with several weeks of complete abstinence. We recommend entering into an alcohol use recovery program and maintaining sobriety long-term in order to prevent further liver damage.
  • Alcoholic Hepatitis – As inflammation levels continue to increase in the liver, alcoholic hepatitis begins to develop. This condition can be mild or severe, and is typically accompanied by a range of symptoms including fever, nausea and vomiting, fatigue and jaundice (yellowing of the skin). Severe cases of this condition can occur after a period of binge drinking, and symptoms can be life-threatening if left unaddressed. In especially severe cases a liver transplant might become necessary.
  • Alcoholic Cirrhosis – This condition develops as scar tissue starts to build up in the liver. Alcoholic cirrhosis is the most severe type of alcohol-related liver damage, and it typically results in a range of serious health-related complications from upper digestive tract bleeding to kidney failure and liver cancer. Once alcoholic cirrhosis develops, damage cannot be reversed. Effective treatment options focus on the maintenance of complete sobriety and addressing complications as they develop. It is not uncommon for those with advanced cirrhosis to require a liver transplant.

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Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

The symptoms of advanced alcohol-related liver disease include:

  • High blood pressure, specifically in the liver (portal hypertension).
  • An accumulation of fluid in the stomach and abdomen.
  • A weakened immune system and increased risk of serious infection.
  • Significant weight loss and malnourishment.
  • Advanced jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes due to liver damage/kidney failure).
  • Brain damage, which results from an inability to effectively process toxins.

Can Alcohol-Related Liver Damage Be Reversed?

Once alcohol-related liver damage begins to occur, can it be successfully reversed before it becomes permanent? Reversing liver damage is not always possible, but if you catch alcoholism in its earliest stages the likelihood of reversing physical consequences is more likely. First, let us take a look at the stages of alcoholism — a progressive medical condition. The longer alcoholism is left untreated, the more severe related symptoms become.

Stages of Alcoholism:

  • Stage 1 – Occasional Use – You drink occasionally and without consequence.
  • Stage 2 – Regular Use – You start to drink more frequently; you are likely beginning to develop a physical tolerance.
  • Stage 3 – Problem Drinking – You have started experiencing personal consequences as a direct result of your alcohol use.
  • Stage 4 – Physical Dependence – You lose the ability to control your alcohol intake and cannot quit drinking without professional help.

If you catch an alcohol use disorder during any stage, making a complete recovery is possible. However, we recommend reaching out for help as soon as you recognize your drinking habits have started resulting in personal consequences.

Treating Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

The American Liver Foundation states, “Abstinence is the most important therapeutic intervention for people with this disease. In the early stages of the disease, liver damage may be reversed if the person stops drinking.” Fatty liver disease can often be reversed with prolonged sobriety, and even alcoholic hepatitis can be effectively treated (though a liver transplant might be required in severe or advanced cases). Once alcoholic cirrhosis develops it cannot be reversed, but it can be treated. Above all else, effective treatment depends on complete abstinence. If you continue drinking in any capacity the symptoms associated with liver damage will only continue to get worse.

How to Find Treatment for Alcoholism

If you have been struggling to control your drinking on your own, you might be wondering what treatment options are available to you. At Guardian Recovery we offer a personalized continuum of care which includes the following treatment stages:

Contact us today to learn which level of clinical care is the right choice for you and your unique case. No matter how severe an alcohol use disorder has become, recovery is always possible.

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If you or a loved one has experienced liver damage from alcohol misuse or dependence, there is help available. The sooner you stop drinking, the more likely it is for existing liver damage to be reversed over time. The first step to healing on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level is reaching out for professional help. At Guardian Recovery we understand how difficult it can be to come to terms with an alcohol use disorder. Not only is alcohol use socially acceptable, but heavy drinking is often condoned. We encourage you to consider the amount of damage heavy drinking is doing to your physical body, and remember your personal recovery program will be custom-tailored to meet all of your unique, individual needs. As soon as you make the decision to reach out for help you will be put in touch with an experienced and compassionate Treatment Advisor who will help you decide on the most appropriate level of care. All you have to do is reach out for help and we will walk you through every step of our straightforward admissions processContact us today to begin.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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