Anyone who has experienced a hangover after drinking knows that it’s your body’s way of telling you that alcohol is not meant to be consumed to excess. The overconsumption of alcohol can lead to many negative symptoms, including dehydration, anxiety, and intestinal issues. The human liver is at the front lines of the body’s defenses against alcohol. The liver is what regulates most chemical levels in the blood and excretes a product known as bile. Bile is what helps carry waste products away from the liver. All of the blood that leaves the stomach and intestines is passed through the liver, which acts as a filtration system for the human body. It’s also the liver’s job to break down, balance, and create nutrients for the body.
The main functions of the liver include:
- Breaking down alcohol, drugs, and other potentially harmful substances
- Producing bile that helps carry fats and other waste products out of the body
- Storing and producing certain essential nutrients
- Making proteins that are essential for blood clotting
In most cases, people who consume a moderate amount of alcohol will not see any long-term effects of the alcohol on their liver. Like many parts of the body, the liver can repair itself.
However, in many cases, heavy habitual drinking can cause substantial scarring of the liver that leads to adverse side effects down the road. Scar tissue makes the liver permanently unable to operate optimally. Alcohol consumption is one of the leading causes of various liver ailments and diseases. Seeking a professional alcohol addiction treatment program is often the best way to address the abuse and dependency on alcohol while allowing the liver time to reverse the damage and heal itself.
A Dangerous Trend in Massachusetts
Across the country and in Massachusetts, alcohol consumption is up. Believe it or not, more alcohol is consumed by the average American now than was consumed before prohibition began in 1920. A 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that, on average, 18.7% of Massachusetts residents binge drank alcohol in the past year. A person that binge drank consumed 6.5 drinks on average in one sitting. Binge drinking is one of the biggest indicators of the potential for alcohol use disorder, more commonly known as alcoholism, and can cause liver damage quickly. It is defined as four or more drinks for a woman or five or more drinks for a man on an occasion during the past 30 days.
How Much Alcohol Can the Liver Safely Process?
One of the liver’s main jobs is to break down harmful substances, including alcohol. When alcohol is present in the bloodstream, it is filtered through the liver. The liver produces certain enzymes that break down the alcohol and prepare it to be removed from the body. So how much alcohol is too much for your liver to handle? As a rule, the human liver can only effectively process one alcoholic drink per hour. While the actual amount of alcohol may vary based on various factors, the National Institute on Alcohol Use and Alcoholism (NIAAA) does provide some hard data as general consumption guidelines that apply to a majority of cases.
The NIAAA has defined one standard alcoholic beverage as equivalent to:
- 12 fl oz. of beer (at 5% alcohol content)
- 8-9 fl oz. of malt liquor (at 7% alcohol content)
- 5 fl oz. of table wine (at 12% alcohol content)
- 1.5 fl oz. or a shot of 80-proof distilled spirits (at 40% alcohol content)
The risk of alcohol damaging the liver is significantly increased if the person engages in “heavy drinking.” According to the NIAAA, consuming seven or more drinks per week is considered heavy drinking for women, and 15 drinks or more per week is determined to be excessive or heavy drinking for men.
The Early Signs of Liver Damage from Alcohol
When someone is going through the early stages of alcohol-related liver damage, they don’t always show symptoms. Because of this, it can be challenging to determine whether you or a loved one has started to experience the consequences of unhealthy drinking habits. If the person does feel symptoms, they are most often relatively mild. These symptoms may include:
- Swelling of the liver, resulting in pressure or discomfort on the upper-right side of your stomach
- General fatigue and lack of energy
- Sudden or unexplained weight loss
- Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, or other intestinal issues
At this point, if a person adjusts their drinking habits to a healthy level, all of these symptoms are typically reversible. If a person continues unhealthy drinking habits, their condition can progress further into debilitating or life-threatening conditions.
Reversing Liver Damage from Drinking Is Possible
The liver is an incredible organ. With time, the liver can regenerate and repair itself even after years of alcohol misuse. While the liver is capable of this, it isn’t indestructible. Knowing that it can repair itself is not a free pass to push it as far as possible because the liver does have a breaking point at which repairs can no longer happen. To begin healing your body and rebuilding your life from the bonds of an alcohol use disorder, there are a few things to look for:
- Seek out a medical professional for assistance.
- Use that medical professional’s help during the detox period.
- Focus on your physical and mental well-being. Taking away something that has been a big part of your life has massive implications. Make sure you have support around to help throughout the process.
All of these things can be done in the comfort of one place.
Swift River – Massachusetts Can Help
Swift River can offer the professional treatment and compassion needed to heal your mind and body. Our alcohol addiction treatment uses evidence-based methods that have been proven to help people reclaim their lives from alcohol use disorder. To begin your journey, call us at 888.451.5895.