Many people are familiar with the fact that alcohol can affect the liver but may wonder, are there external symptoms that we should be aware of when it comes to liver disease? Unfortunately, your liver can sustain lasting damage without showing obvious signs. It is not until the later stages of alcohol-related liver disease that you may recognize illness, at which point the harm could already be irreversible.
Liver disease is widespread among alcohol consumers; over 40% of liver disease deaths in 2018 involved alcohol use.  It is important to understand the consequences and treatments of alcohol-related liver disease before it becomes life-threatening.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver?
The liver is a vital organ whose primary function is detoxification. As you introduce alcohol to the body, your liver works hard to eliminate this toxin from the system. Chronic use or excessive consumption of alcohol causes the liver to go into overtime. This burden can result in liver damage known as alcohol-related liver disease or ARLD. 
Risk Factors for Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
Some people may be at an increased risk of developing alcohol-related liver disease due to several factors:
- Alcohol Consumption: individuals who have been consuming alcohol for a long time (typically, more than eight years) or drink an excessive amount of alcohol  are at risk for alcohol-related liver disease.
- Body Composition: obese individuals are more vulnerable to ARLD.
- Gender: women are at increased risk for ARLD.
- Genetics: people with a family history of ARLD are at higher risk.
- Nutrition: risk is higher for those with poor nutrition.
- Existing diseases: having hepatitis C or HIV can increase the risk of ARLD.
Signs and Stages of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
To identify the symptoms of the disease, it’s important to classify the three stages of alcohol-related liver disease:
- Hepatic Steatosis, or fatty liver. The first stage of alcohol-related liver disease often shows no symptoms at all. Approximately 90% of people who drink excessively suffer from fatty liver.2] Fortunately, hepatic steatosis can be reversed if caught in the early stages. If left untreated, it can worsen.
- Hepatitis or liver inflammation. As the disease progresses, the liver becomes inflamed. Up to 35% of excessive alcohol consumers develop hepatitis. Some cases of acute hepatitis can resolve with treatment, but often chronic inflammation can leave the liver with permanent damage. Individuals with hepatitis can show no signs or experience fever, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellow skin and mucous membranes). 
- Cirrhosis. The third and final stage of alcohol-related liver disease is characterized by severe scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis affects 10 to 20% of those who continue to consume alcohol. At this stage, the liver can no longer function properly. This late stage of ARLD cannot be reversed and can sometimes be life-threatening.
Signs of cirrhosis include jaundice, fatigue, increased thirst, swollen abdomen (due to fluid accumulation), vomiting, severe abdominal pain, enlarged spleen, portal hypertension, blood vomit or bloody stools (as a result of bleeding into the intestinal tract), brain fog or confusion, mood swings, enlarged breasts (in men), bruises (caused by blood clotting problems), and liver failure.
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Can Alcohol-Related Liver Damage Be Reversed?
In the early stages of ARLD, it may be possible to reserve the liver damage. A physician will perform diagnostics, including blood work, ultrasound, and possibly liver biopsy, to determine exactly which stage you are experiencing. They can then develop a treatment plan to alleviate your symptoms and help stop the disease’s progression.
After a person enters stages two and three of liver disease, the liver’s inflammation and scarring cause permanent damage.
Treatment for Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
The initial and most important step in treating liver damage caused by drinking is to abstain from alcohol. Recovery is the only way to potentially reverse signs of destruction and slow the progression of the existing disease. Why? Even if it is in less excessive quantities, introducing alcohol to an already-damaged liver will cause the condition to worsen into subsequent stages, leading to more severe symptoms. The help of professional alcohol rehab in California can be essential in addressing this first step of treatment.
Many people with ARLD suffer from malnutrition; therefore, a healthy diet is part of a successful treatment plan. Your doctor may recommend supplements and vitamins as part of this nutrition strategy.
In severe cases, a liver transplant may be necessary—almost 1 in 3 liver transplants performed in the US in 2009 was due to ARLD. The transplant review process can be an arduous one with many rules regarding eligibility.
Concerned About Your Alcohol Consumption? Alcohol Rehab in California Can Help
If you are worried about liver disease due to excessive alcohol consumption, act before it is too late. Ocean Hills Recovery can help you with the first phase in treating alcohol-related liver disease by initiating the recovery process. Our center offers medically supervised alcohol detox and treatment programs designed to help those struggling. This lifestyle change can protect your liver and significantly extend your life. Contact us today to learn more. If you are experiencing any advanced symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease, please seek immediate medical attention.
Sources: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics  https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/liver-and-gallbladder-disorders/alcoholic-liver-disease/alcoholic-liver-disease#v9001000#:~:text=Women%20are%20more%20vulnerable%20to%20liver%20damage%20by,of%20alcohol%20a%20day%20puts%20women%20at%20risk.  https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/liver-disease#risk-factors  https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/onlinemedia/infographics/excessive-alcohol-use.html#:~:text=Excessive%20drinking%20includes%3A%20Binge%20drinking%3A%20For%20women%2C%20binge,Any%20alcohol%20use%20by%20those%20under%20age%2021.  https://www.alcohol.org/comorbid/liver-disease-and-alcoholism/  https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/liver-transplant
About the author:
Greg opened his home and heart to alcoholics and addicts in 2003. He is a Certified Addictions Treatment Counselor (CATC). Starting in 2009 Greg has fostered the growth of Ocean Hills Recovery into one of the most respected and effective treatment centers in the area and has been working with people with addictions since March of 2001. Greg believes in a holistic approach to recovery. His focus is on drug alcohol addiction treatment with a combination of 12 Step work, therapy and counseling, and the rejuvenation of the body through healthful eating and exercise. He has designed his program to foster a family-like atmosphere and believes that people in recovery are just beginning their lives. He encourages the people he works with to learn to enjoy life in sobriety. Greg is married to Nicole; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.