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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

January 24, 2024

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Liver damage from drinking can lead to the development of ARLD (alcohol-related liver disease). This happens when liver problems from drinking too much alcohol long-term prevent the organ from working properly. In its later stages, alcohol liver disease can be life-threatening. Read on to learn more about alcohol damage and discover how to engage with science-backed treatment near you.

First Signs of Liver Damage from Alcohol

The early signs of liver damage from alcohol consumption can be subtle and sometimes easily overlooked. That said, recognizing these initial symptoms can help enable early intervention.

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  • Fatigue and weakness: One of the first signs of liver problems from drinking can be a general feeling of tiredness and weakness, not linked to physical exertion.
  • Abdominal discomfort: Mild pain or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen, where the liver is located, can be another early indicator of alcohol-related liver damage.
  • Loss of appetite: A noticeable decrease in appetite, often accompanied by weight loss, can be a sign of liver damage from alcohol.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Feelings of nausea or actual vomiting, especially when not associated with other known illnesses, may signal liver issues.
  • Swelling in the abdomen: Early liver damage from drinking may cause fluid to accumulate in the abdomen, leading to noticeable swelling.
  • Change in stool and urine color: Dark urine and pale-colored stools can be early signs of liver dysfunction.
  • Jaundice: One of the more recognizable early signs is jaundice, where the skin and the whites of the eyes take on a yellowish hue due to a buildup of bilirubin, a substance processed by the liver.
  • Itchy skin: Unexplained skin itchiness can sometimes be an early symptom of liver damage.

These early signs, while not always indicating liver damage, should not be ignored, especially in individuals with a history of heavy alcohol use. If these symptoms present, seek medical evaluation to determine the cause and to receive appropriate care. Early detection and treatment of liver damage can aid in preventing more severe liver diseases like cirrhosis or liver failure.

Symptoms of Liver Damage from Alcohol

The symptoms of liver damage from alcohol vary depending on its stage, and there are three key stages of the condition:

  1. Steototic fatty liver (alcoholic fatty liver disease): This initial stage involves fat buildup around the liver. Abstaining from alcohol can often reverse this condition.
  2. Acute alcoholic hepatitis: In this stage, the liver becomes inflamed due to alcohol abuse. Depending on the extent of damage, treatment may reverse it, but severe cases can progress to liver failure.
  3. Alcoholic cirrhosis: The most advanced stage of ARLD, characterized by scarring of the liver from prolonged alcohol abuse. This damage is irreversible and can lead to liver failure.

ARLD can be asymptomatic in its early stages, with symptoms becoming more noticeable as the disease progresses. Common symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Appetite loss
  • Jaundice
  • Tiredness
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Increased thirst
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Skin color changes
  • Redness in hands or feet
  • Dark stools
  • Fainting
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Mood changes
  • Confusion
  • Bleeding gums
  • Breast enlargement in men

These symptoms may become more prominent following episodes of heavy drinking. Individuals showing these signs, especially those with a history of alcohol abuse, should seek medical evaluation and intervention. Developing an awareness of the signs and symptoms from liver damage from alcohol can help inform early detection and treatment. This can be instrumental in managing ARLD and preventing further liver damage.

An image of a man with symptoms of liver damage from alcohol

How to Detect Liver Damage from Alcohol

Detecting liver damage from alcohol involves a combination of clinical evaluation, symptom observation, and diagnostic tests.

  • Medical history and physical examination: A healthcare provider will review the person’s medical history, including alcohol consumption habits, and perform a physical examination. They may look for signs like jaundice, abdominal swelling, or changes in skin color.
  • Symptom assessment: The presentation of symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, abdominal discomfort, and jaundice can be indicative of liver damage. Report these symptoms to a healthcare provider if they manifest.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests help in detecting liver damage. They can measure levels of liver enzymes, bilirubin, and other substances that indicate liver function. Elevated liver enzymes often signal liver inflammation or damage.
  • Imaging tests: Ultrasound, CT scans, or MRIs can be used to visualize the liver and assess its condition. These tests can detect changes in liver size, signs of cirrhosis, or other abnormalities.
  • Liver biopsy: In some cases, a liver biopsy may be performed. This involves taking a small tissue sample from the liver to be examined for signs of damage or disease.
  • Lifestyle and symptom history: Understanding the person’s lifestyle, especially their alcohol consumption patterns, helps inform accurate diagnosis.

Anyone who consumes alcohol regularly or has a history of heavy drinking should undergo regular check-ups. Early detection of liver damage can lead to more effective management and potentially prevent further progression of liver disease. If liver damage is suspected, abstaining from alcohol and seeking medical guidance are essential first steps.

Can Liver Damage from Alcohol Be Reversed?

For those who are wondering can you reverse liver damage from alcohol, this largely depends on the stage and extent of the damage.

  • Early stages (fatty liver): In the early stage, known as alcoholic fatty liver disease, the damage is often reversible. If you want to know how to repair liver damage from alcohol, abstaining from alcohol can allow the liver to recover, and lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and regular exercise can aid in this process.
  • Moderate damage (alcoholic hepatitis): If liver damage has progressed to alcoholic hepatitis, which involves inflammation of the liver, some of the damage might still be reversible with complete abstinence from alcohol and appropriate medical treatment.
  • Advanced stage (cirrhosis): Once the liver damage has advanced to cirrhosis, characterized by scarring and permanent damage, the condition is generally not reversible. However, stopping alcohol use may prevent further damage and significantly improve quality of life. In severe cases, a liver transplant might be the only option.

Alcoholic Liver Disease Treatment

The treatment of alcoholic liver disease focuses on two main objectives. Firstly, it aims to support the cessation of alcohol consumption to halt further damage to the liver and promote its healing. Secondly, it seeks to enhance liver health.

For those with ARLD, medical recommendations might include:

  • Inpatient or outpatient rehab: Anyone who is struggling to quit drinking independently should consider engaging with evidence-based treatment, whether inpatient or outpatient.
  • Multivitamin supplements: Those who drink heavily often have a deficiency in B-complex vitamins, which can lead to issues such as anemia or malnutrition.
  • Liver transplant: In severe cases where the liver is extensively damaged by cirrhosis and fails to function correctly, a liver transplant may be necessary.
  • Vitamin A supplements: ARLD often leads to a deficiency in vitamin A. That said, vitamin A should only be taken by those who have stopped drinking, as its combination with alcohol can be harmful. While supplements are not a cure for liver disease, they can help avert complications like malnutrition.

Individuals with ARLD should closely follow their healthcare provider’s guidance on treatments and supplements, especially considering the risks associated with certain vitamins in the context of ongoing alcohol consumption.

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Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

If you need assistance tackling alcohol abuse before the problem worsens, we can help you with effective and evidence-based treatment for alcohol addiction at Renaissance Recovery.

Most people who are dependent on alcohol find that supervised medical detoxification is the safest and most comfortable setting in which to begin the withdrawal process. We can connect you with detox facilities throughout California, so you can address the issue of physical dependence and prepare yourself for ongoing treatment at our rehab center in Huntington Beach, CA.

Our intensive outpatient programs provide a flexible and affordable path to ongoing recovery in Southern California. You can meet your everyday commitments while engaging with a personalized array of the following therapies:

  • MAT
  • Psychotherapies
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Holistic therapies
  • Aftercare planning

Although alcohol use disorder is a chronic and progressive condition, it is also treatable. Call Renaissance at 866.330.9449 for immediate assistance.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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