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Early Signs of Liver Damage After Drinking

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Alcohol abuse can be harmful to virtually every organ in the body, including the liver. When you learn to recognize the early signs of liver damage after drinking, you may be able to get help before you incur irreversible and potentially fatal harm.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver?

The liver plays a key role in the body’s effort to metabolize alcohol. When alcohol reaches the liver, a three-step process begins:

  1. An enzyme in the liver converts ethanol (alcohol) into a compound called acetaldehyde. 
  2. Another enzyme breaks the acetaldehyde in a substance called acetate.
  3. Acetate is further broken down into carbon dioxide and water, which can then be safely eliminated.

Although acetaldehyde is present in the liver for only a brief period, it can be a source of considerable harm. Acetaldehyde is a toxic substance that. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it can damage DNA and prevent the body from making necessary repairs. Among other potential negative outcomes, this DNA damage can lead to the growth of cancerous tumors.

In terms of the liver specifically, continued alcohol abuse can lead to the following three problems:

  • Fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is the most serious of these three outcomes. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that cirrhosis was responsible for almost 48,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2019 alone. NIAAA data also indicates that the age-adjusted death rate due to alcohol-related cirrhosis increased by 47% from 2000-2019.

Early Signs of Liver Damage After Drinking

Given the potential for serious, possibly fatal, outcomes, it is extremely important to understand the early signs of liver damage after drinking. The damage caused by fatty liver and alcoholic hepatitis can often be either reversed or managed if caught in time. But when alcohol-related liver problems progress to cirrhosis, the harm is often permanent. 

When a person develops fatty liver, they may not experience any obvious signs. As the liver damage progresses to alcoholic hepatitis, evidence of harm becomes more evident. The following are common early signs of liver damage after drinking:

  • Diminished appetite
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Persistent, unexplainable fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin

The buildup of toxins that can result from alcohol-related liver damage can also have cognitive effects such as confusion and disorientation.

Treatment Options for Alcohol-Related Liver Damage

The first step in treating alcohol-related liver damage is to stop drinking. For many people, this step requires professional help. Depending on factors such as how much a person has been drinking and how long they have been addicted to alcohol, treatment may involve detox, residential care, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), intensive outpatient program (IOP), and outpatient rehab.

It is virtually impossible to overstate how important it is to quit drinking once you have developed alcohol-related liver problems. If you are unable or unwilling to commit to a sober lifestyle, there is little that can be done to prevent you from experiencing increasingly more severe damage.

If you’ve caught the problem in time, your liver may begin to heal itself once you’ve stopped drinking. Taking certain prescription medications and following an appropriate nutritional plan can also promote continued healing, or at least prevent additional harm.

In cases of severe, irreversible liver damage as a result of alcohol abuse, a liver transplant may be necessary. 

Other Effects of Alcohol Abuse

As we’ve discussed in the previous few sections, it is extremely important to be aware of the early signs of liver damage after drinking. But potential harm to your liver isn’t the only alcohol-related health issue you need to be aware of.

Drinking too much even once can put you at risk for problems such as the following:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Exposure to HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted infections
  • Physical injuries due to slips, falls, and auto accidents
  • Bodily harm due to aggressive or reckless behaviors

Chronic alcohol abuse has been linked with several health concerns, including:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Several types of cancer
  • Cognitive damage
  • Onset or worsening of mental health disorders

Abusing and becoming addicted to alcohol can also expose you to considerable social damage, such as:

  • Substandard performance in school or at work
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss and long-term unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Ruined relationships
  • Withdrawal and isolation

Entering an alcohol rehab in Atlanta can reduce your risk for these and other outcomes. During our program, you can also begin to heal from any damage that you have already experienced.

Begin Treatment for Alcohol Addiction in Atlanta

Untreated alcohol addiction can have a devastating impact on your body and your mind. But when you get the help you need, you can start living the healthier life you deserve. Peachtree Recovery Solutions offers multiple levels of personalized outpatient programming for adults in the Atlanta, Georgia, area whose lives have been disrupted by alcoholism. With the guidance and support of our dedicated treatment professionals, you can stop using alcohol and build a foundation for successful recovery. 

When you’re ready to get started, the Peachtree Recovery Solutions team is here for you. Visit our Contact Us page or call us today to learn more.