Alcohol is damaging to the entire body, but especially to the liver. The liver breaks down most of the alcohol so that it can be removed from the body. Heavy alcohol consumption puts a lot of pressure on the liver and causes various problems. You may feel liver pain after drinking, or liver tissue may become inflamed and damaged, leading to alcohol-induced liver disease.
But what happens when you stop drinking? Can the liver repair itself after years of drinking? Read on to find out or learn more about alcohol addiction treatment at Stonegate Center.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver?
Before we elaborate on what happens to the liver when you stop drinking, it’s crucial to address how alcohol affects it in the first place.
During the process of breaking down alcohol, the liver creates substances that are more dangerous than alcohol itself. With heavy and chronic alcohol consumption, these substances harm liver cells and cause severe diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatitis. Persistent drinking over the years causes liver scarring, also known as cirrhosis, that prevents the organ from functioning properly. The liver can also become inflamed, triggering hepatitis.
However, fatty liver is the most common type of liver disease. Men who consume over two alcoholic drinks a day, and women who drink more than one, are at risk of building up fat in the liver. Fatty liver, cirrhosis, and hepatitis can lead to organ failure and even death. In 2019, 43.1% of all liver disease deaths in the United States were caused by alcohol.
Data shows that people who abuse alcohol may progress from fatty liver to alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Up to 35% of heavy drinkers get alcoholic hepatitis, while 10% to 20% end up with cirrhosis.
Alcohol harms the liver through several mechanisms, including:
- Free radicals
A great deal of cell damage that occurs in alcoholic liver disease is caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals that are formed during metabolic processes. Free radicals trigger oxidative stress, which damages the body’s cells and makes people more susceptible to disease and signs of aging, such as cataracts or wrinkled skin.Alcohol consumption not only ramps up free radical production in the body, but it also diminishes the liver’s supply of antioxidants, which are the substances that neutralize free radicals.
- Inflammatory agents
The inflammatory process starts when liver cells release chemicals that attract specialized white blood cells, called phagocytes, to the damaged tissue. Chronic heavy alcohol consumption throws certain biological molecules out of balance and induces other mechanisms that cause liver tissue damage.
What Are Signs of Liver Damage From Drinking?
Symptoms of liver damage do not occur immediately. This is why alcohol consumption is so serious and why people with severe alcoholism need a long-term inpatient rehab center for treatment, such as Stonegate Center, located just west of Fort Worth, Texas. People usually don’t notice symptoms until the liver is already severely damaged. When that happens, symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Liver pain after drinking
- Drowsiness or confusion
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and the skin)
- Swelling in the ankles and abdominal area
- Vomiting blood
- Bloody stools
Regular visits to the doctor’s office can help diagnose liver disease, but it’s crucial for patients to be honest about how much alcohol they drink.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking?
Now that you know how alcohol harms the liver, it’s time to focus on what happens to this organ when you quit drinking. Does it heal? And if so, how long do you abstain from drinking to repair the liver? The good news is that the liver has remarkable self-healing powers—as long as you stop drinking alcohol.
Liver Fat Decreases
Alcohol cessation can benefit the liver and its function in more ways than one. For example, when you stop drinking alcohol, one sign that your liver is healing is that liver fat decreases. As seen above, chronic alcohol consumption leads to the accumulation of fat in the liver.
Along with decreased liver fat, reduced inflammation and scarring (the culprits behind alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis) are other signs that your liver is healing. Research indicates that people who abuse alcohol see at least a partial improvement in hepatitis or cirrhosis once they stop drinking. The degree of improvement depends on the extent of the liver damage—a heavily diseased liver won’t recover as fully as a liver that hasn’t suffered as much damage. Fibrosis—the scar tissue on the liver—may also improve.
BMI and Insulin Resistance Decreases
Too much alcohol wreaks havoc on blood sugar, inhibiting insulin’s ability to maintain even blood sugar levels. Over time, the body can develop insulin resistance, raising the risk of diabetes. Alcohol abstention frees the liver up from the job of metabolizing alcohol in the body so it can do its part in keeping blood glucose levels steady.
Reduced body mass index (BMI) can also be influenced by decreased alcohol consumption. Research indicates that obesity and alcohol abuse raise the risk of liver disease. Cutting out alcohol means you’re also cutting out a lot of empty calories, which can help bring the weight down and lower your BMI number.
How Long to Abstain From Alcohol to Repair the Liver?
This is a common question. Does it take five days, one week, 10 days of no alcohol for liver repair, or will it take even longer? The answer is different for every person. Some people may experience improvement in their liver disease symptoms within weeks, while it may take longer for others.
Perhaps the most critical factors are how long you’ve been abusing alcohol and the amount you drink each day. The more you consume alcohol, the more damage you’ve done to your liver and the longer it will take to heal. Other considerations include your overall health, diet, exercise, weight, and smoking habits, among others.
The faster you get treatment, the healthier your liver will be. We recommend treatment at a medical detox center in Texas such as Stonegate Center where we can help you get on the road to recovery. We monitor you around the clock to guard against alcohol withdrawal’s adverse effects and get you ready for inpatient recovery.
The signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal develop within six hours after the last drink. They may last for a few days or even weeks. For example, you may experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms.
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) vary from patient to patient, but they generally involve psychological and mood-related changes.
The most common signs and symptoms of withdrawal include:
- High blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Faster heart rate
The symptoms may range from mild to severe. Alcohol detox should be performed under medical supervision, where patients also get medications, if necessary.
Alcohol wreaks havoc on our health, especially the liver. That being said, alcohol cessation can help improve liver function and decrease the presence of enzymes that point to liver damage. A detox to “refresh” the liver isn’t enough. For improved liver function, avoid alcohol entirely and commit to a long-term alcohol detox.
Struggling with Alcohol Abuse or Alcoholism?
If you’re struggling to put the bottle down and are looking for a long-term solution, contact us today.
We offer an alcohol detox program, which typically lasts from two to seven days, followed by long-term residential treatment, which can last from 45 days and up to 90 days depending on your insurance coverage, medical acuity, and motivation. On our 125+ acre campus in Azle, Texas, you’ll get access to top-notch individual counseling, group therapy, recreational, and equine therapy, as well as the ability to participate in our Family Program.
Get Help with Stonegate Center
For a 100% and free quote, please submit our insurance verification form and we’ll have our Admissions Director reach out to you within the hour! We are in-network with most major health insurance providers like Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), Aetna, Cigna, Ambetter, HealthChoice of Oklahoma, and others. And although we do not take Medicare or Medicaid, we can get you in touch with an affiliate who does.
We look forward to learning more about you as we can help you get started on your road to recovery!