If you drink alcohol, whether it is once in a while or regularly or excessively, you want to think about its impact on your liver. Don’t worry, we’re not here to tell you it’s time to quit. Although, if that’s on the agenda by all means, go for it.
Your liver is one of the most important organs in the body. So, here’s what you need to know about how it processes alcohol and what you can do to help it recover.
Alcohol and the Liver: What Really Happens
Alcohol is obviously a toxin in the context of your liver health. It cannot process alcohol as well as other liquids like, say, water. A healthy liver can handle just about a small drink per hour. When you drink more than that, your liver gets strained and it struggles to process what you put in the body.
If you ignore this dosage and indulge in alcohol abuse, here’s what is likely to happen:
- Fatty liver
Once your drinking reaches a point where the tissue is scarred, it loses its ability to heal or repair itself. Alcohol also causes damage to the enzymes in the liver which are capable of killing the cells in the body. But if you haven’t reached that point, here’s what you can expect in terms of healing.
The human is kind of a magician in the sense that it has the ability to heal itself just the way the skin can by forming a scab over a wound when it is healing. It might leave you with a scar but it repairs itself.
The healing process in the liver is similar. When the cells die because of the alcohol in the system, there is a little scarring and it is called liver cirrhosis.
If you don’t stop even after the initial scarring then you are in real trouble. But otherwise, you can start the healing process by stopping the alcohol intake. Once you stop drinking, the liver gets a chance to heal.
This can take days to weeks to months depending on the amount of damage that has already been done. It will take months if the liver is severely damaged. It also depends on the time period for which there has been alcohol abuse and also the amount of alcohol consumed must be taken into account.
In the initial stages, the liver accumulates fat inside it, which is the alcohol’s doing. This is a medical condition called alcoholic fatty liver disease or AFLD.
As a result, you will see inflammation or irritation which causes alcoholic hepatitis. Now, the accumulation of fat and inflammation can be reversed. But it is not the same with the tissue scarring and when it gets bad, you have liver cirrhosis. In the long term, this can be lethal.
If you’re worried about your liver’s health, there are four things you can do to help yourself. And they are very simple too.
- Stop drinking
- Try not to add other harmful substances like tobacco to your system
- Exercise a little
- Eat well
How to Reverse the Damage
Now, about 70 percent of the population that already has alcohol-related liver problems has an alcohol dependency. This makes quitting drinking a little difficult. But if people with alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis don’t stop drinking, it can end their life.
This is a major factor in the treatment of any alcohol-related disease that affects the liver. One also needs to make lifestyle choices like eating healthier and doing a moderate level of exercise.
The liver is meant to get rid of the toxins in the body and alcohol itself contains toxins. So, when you overwhelm the process with more than one drink an hour, the damage is to be expected.
When this behavior continues without a break, the liver becomes tired and even though it is capable of regeneration, there is a point where it gives up. It will no longer possess its magical abilities and get back to its regular size if you have lost 75 percent of it.
So, identify the problem in the initial stages and you can totally reverse the effects of alcohol on your liver. Now, what’s the timeline to stop drinking? Excellent question. And here’s the answer.
For How Long Should You Stop Drinking?
As mentioned earlier, it may take days to months after you stop drinking for the liver to recover. Your history with drinking is the first factor in the timeline of your recovery. To assess the damage and estimate the treatment so that your liver gets back to its regular size, you need to consider these three things:
- How much alcohol you drank on a weekly basis
- The severity of your alcohol-related liver disease
- Your lifestyle choices, irrespective of the drinking
When we say history with alcohol, it is not just about you. Alcohol use disorder or AUD can also be the result of a genetic predisposition to such problems. This is one of the most important factors in assessing dependency and addiction.
You also need to know that liver regeneration is not a simple process if you have health and lifestyle exceptions. Complications will arise if the regeneration is incomplete or the scarred tissue develops progressively. If the latter happens and the scarred tissue develops, it cannot be reversed which means you are now in a tough spot in terms of recovery. When liver diseases like cirrhosis are diagnosed at a later stage, it becomes a real problem.
The good news is that those who go on a drinking binge occasionally over the weekend are likely to escape alcohol-related liver diseases. Having said that, it is not a hard-and-fast rule, which means you would do well to take it easy for 2-4 weeks after your binge.
Experts, of course, recommend that you should not drink for the next 30 days so that your liver can go back to its regular function. Even after this, it is useful to remember that alcohol consumption is to happen moderately if you can’t abstain entirely.
If you drink severely, it is important to remember that the liver will take 3-12 months to recover and regenerate to its original size, functions and capacity.
It’s a good idea to keep all these numbers in mind the next time you’re out drinking simply to remember the definition of moderation.