Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

Excessive drinking consumption can lead to a whole host of physical, mental, and personal problems. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at alcohol related liver disease, which is one of the more serious health-related side effects of alcohol abuse.

We’ll outline what it is, how it’s caused and diagnosed, and the treatment options available. Remember: help is available if you’re concerned about your level of alcohol consumption. Call 855-222-1610 to speak to a member of the Peaks Recovery team.

Alcohol-related liver disease is liver damage caused by alcohol. Though there are various types of alcohol related liver damage, the broad strokes are the same: the organ is no longer able to do its job correctly. If ALD is left untreated, then it can cause serious complications and even death.

Alcohol-related liver disease belongs to the broad family of liver diseases. This condition has a variety of causes, including diabetes, infection, and immune system conditions. In patients that have alcohol-related liver disease, excessive, long-term alcohol consumption is identified as the cause of the liver disease.

It usually occurs following many years of problematic alcohol consumption. As we’ll see below, there are a number of different types of alcohol related liver disease, with some deemed to be more serious than others. However, all types of liver disease, however mild, must be taken seriously. Cessation of alcohol use is usually the first treatment option, since it has been shown to help the liver to heal. 

Alcohol-Related Steatohepatitis

Steatohepatitis is a serious fatty liver disease stage. It occurs when the liver builds up excessive fat, which causes inflammation in the organ. It’s possible to get steatohepatitis from other sources, including diabetes, but alcohol related steatohepatitis is always caused by problematic drinking. It’s possible to have both alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related steatohepatitis at the same time. 

Alcohol related steatohepatitis is usually asymptomatic until an advanced stage. Early stage alcohol related steatohepatitis is usually diagnosed when a doctor is performing other health checkups. 

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcohol hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver that has been caused by alcohol. Following prognosis, recovery depends on the severity of the condition — in mild cases, alcohol cessation will reverse the damage. In more serious cases, more thorough intervention is required. 

It’s believed that alcoholic hepatitis is caused by the toxic chemicals the liver produces to break down alcohol. Over time, the related inflammation destroys liver cells, resulting in scars that impact the functionality of the organ. 

Alcohol hepatitis usually occurs in people who drink heavily for many years. However, doctors don’t yet understand how alcohol consumption and hepatitis are related; some heavy drinkers don’t develop the condition, while some mild-yet-consistent drinkers do. All they know is that alcohol is the cause. 

Alcoholic Related Cirrhosis

Alcoholic related cirrhosis is the most serious form of alcohol related liver disease. It occurs following many years of serious alcohol consumption. People with alcoholic related cirrhosis typically have other health conditions, as, because this is an advanced condition, the liver usually has not been working correctly for many years.

Cirrhosis causes the liver to swell and become stiff, making it much more complicated — and sometimes impossible — to work correctly. Patients who have advanced alcohol-related cirrhosis usually require a liver transplant.

It is estimated that between 10-20% of heavy drinkers develop this form of liver disease after one to two decades of serious alcohol consumption. 

What the Liver Does

The liver is responsible for keeping the body’s blood free of toxins, as well as many other important functions. 

It’s the liver that stops alcohol and other toxic substances from entering the body’s bloodstream. In people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, the liver has to work overtime to remove the toxic element of alcoholic drinks. 

A healthy liver is essential for good overall health. This largest solid organ in the body is estimated to have more than five hundred functions. In addition to breaking down alcohol, the liver also helps the body remove waste, digest fats, and regulate blood sugar levels.

Alcohol related liver disease is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. That’s not to say that everyone who drinks excessively will develop ALD — while there’s a clear and defined link between the two, researchers don’t yet fully understand why some people are more likely to get alcohol related liver disease than others.

But the bottom line is, unequivocally, that alcohol is the root cause. Liver disease occurs after many years of heavy drinking. In the case of alcohol related cirrhosis, the patient has usually been drinking excessively for more than a decade. 

Liver damage can occur even in people who drink moderately. While liver disease is usually reserved for heavy drinkers, it’s possible that even people who have their drinking “under control” can develop liver disease, especially if they have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Overweight
  • Pre-existing liver condition
  • Family history of alcohol-related conditions
  • Diabetes.

It’s also important to note that alcohol consumption, even mild consumption, can worsen non-alcohol-related liver disease and other conditions.

Alcohol related liver disease is problematic in that symptoms usually only present themselves once the condition has reached an advanced stage. For this reason, it’s important for people who drink excessively to get a handle on their addiction — even though the body may feel fine, the liver may be undergoing significant damage that leads to serious health conditions later down the line.

Some people do experience symptoms during the early onset of alcohol related liver disease. These symptoms, which are often vague and inconsistent, include:

  • Fatigue
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea 

Symptoms become more easily identified once the liver disease has reached an advanced stage. Some common symptoms of advanced liver disease include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin/eyes).
  • Itchy skin
  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Memory loss/confusion
  • Heightened sensitivity to alcohol.

Most alcohol related liver disease is diagnosed by accident. Because there are few symptoms during the early stages of liver disease, healthcare professionals usually aren’t directly testing for it when they suspect a diagnosis. If liver disease is thought to be present, the doctor will run a series of tests.

Some common ways that healthcare practitioners test for and diagnose alcohol related liver disease include:

  • Biopsy: This involves removing small pieces of the liver and inspecting it under a microscope.
  • Blood tests: These help determine whether the liver is functioning correctly.

MRI scans, CT scans, and Ultrasounds are also commonly used since they help to create a detailed overview of the organ. 

Treatments offered for alcohol related liver disease depend on the severity and type of the disease. However, the first step is always to reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption entirely. In some cases, ceasing alcohol consumption can reverse liver disease. Many healthcare facilities will recommend that patients that have alcohol related liver disease begin treatment for alcohol addiction, as the cessation of drinking is the leading treatment recommendation. 

Beyond quitting drinking, treatment may include increasing fluid intake, taking diuretics, and anti-inflammatory medications. In advanced stages of alcohol-related cirrhosis, a liver transplant may be the recommended treatment solution.

Recap of Key Points

As we’ve seen, alcohol related liver disease is a serious condition that requires urgent attention. Many people can have liver disease for many years before presenting symptoms, at which point the condition has reached an advanced stage. 

The best form of treatment for all types of alcohol related liver disease is alcohol cessation. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend other treatment solutions. The earlier the alcohol related liver disease is caught, the better the prognosis.

Reach Out To Peaks Recovery Centers Today

The best way to prevent liver disease in the first place, or to prevent liver disease from getting worse, is to cease alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol consumption puts intense pressure on the liver, which can lead to impaired functionality and a host of conditions, including liver disease.
If you find that you’re unable to stop drinking, then remember that help is available. Here at Peaks Recovery Centers, our dedicated clinical team has the experience, expertise, and training you need to complete your journey toward alcohol addiction recovery. To speak to a member of our team, call 855-222-1610. Alternatively, you can fill out the contact form on our contact page.

Medical Disclaimer: Peaks Recovery Centers uses fact-based content about recovery treatment, addiction medicine, and behavioral health conditions to improve the quality of life for those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction or mental health disorders. This information is not intended to replace professional medical guidance, diagnosis, care, or treatment. This information should not be used as a substitute for advice from a qualified healthcare provider and/or your physician.