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. But what happens when you stop drinking? Does the liver get better? Read on to find out.
How Alcohol Affects 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.
In 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.
Evidence shows that U.S. deaths from alcohol-related liver disease are at the highest levels since 1999, and since 2016 they have risen in every age, ethnic, and racial group.
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. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to severe problems such as alcoholic hepatitis or severe inflammation of the liver. These conditions can lead to organ failure and even death. Persistent drinking over the years causes liver scarring or cirrhosis that prevent the organ from functioning properly.
Data shows that heavy drinkers and alcoholics may progress from fatty liver to alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. It’s estimated that 10% to 15% of alcoholics will develop the latter.
These problems aren’t new. The relationship between liver disease and alcohol consumption was established over 200 years ago. Long-term heavy alcohol intake is the most common cause of illness and death from liver disease, and this happens because this organ is the primary site of alcohol metabolism.
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 free radicals which cause oxidative stress because alcohol diminishes antioxidants in the liver
- 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.
How to Know If Alcohol Damaged my Liver?
Symptoms of liver damage do not occur immediately. This is why alcohol consumption is so serious and why people with severe alcoholism admit to a long-term inpatient rehab center for alcohol, 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
- Feeling sick
- Drowsiness or confusion
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and the skin)
- Swelling in the ankles and abdominal area
- Vomiting blood
- Passing blood in the 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 get to heal?
Alcohol cessation can benefit the liver and its function in more ways than one. For example, when you stop drinking alcohol, liver fat decreases. As seen above, alcohol leads to the accumulation of fat in the liver. Build up fat in this important organ is a precursor to liver damage.
A study exploring the effects of one month of alcohol abstinence among moderate drinkers found impressive results. They discovered that alcohol cessation resulted in a significant reduction in gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) levels. The GGT is an enzyme found in many organs throughout the body, especially in the liver.
Generally speaking, GGT levels are low, but they can rise when the liver is injured. The good thing is that alcohol abstinence can decrease GGT levels and thereby protect the liver from further injury. In fact, the study showed that resumed intake of alcohol returned GGT to baseline values, where they were high.
A different study found that liver function improved in subjects after one month of alcohol abstinence. Besides lower GGT, participants had reduced serum alanine aminotransferase, an enzyme that increases in the liver when the organ is damaged. The reduction of this enzyme indicates less damage to the liver.
“To improve liver health and function,
we need to avoid alcohol entirely.”
Alcohol cessation can also help lower BMI and aid management of insulin resistance, both of which are risk factors for developing alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, we mustn’t misinterpret these results. Scientists point out that a simple detox isn’t enough to “refresh” liver and make it healthier. To improve liver health and function, we need to avoid alcohol entirely; otherwise, with subsequent use, liver damage would only worsen.
Research confirms that complete alcohol abstinence is vital for the treatment of liver disease, which is a major problem in men and women with heavy long-term alcohol use and often why we suggest people consider going to a medical detox, such as Stonegate Center’s medical detox program for alcohol in Texas.
The alcohol cessation allows the liver to heal and return to normal in people with simple fatty liver disease. However, if you have alcohol-induced fibrosis or cirrhosis and abstain from alcohol completely, damage to the liver will stop. Even though liver scar tissue will remain, you can expect the liver to get better and healthier. In some patients, fibrosis may even regress. As a reminder, fibrosis is the formation of a large amount of scar tissue in the liver.
How Long It Takes to Experience The Benefits of Alcohol Abstinence?
The most frequently asked question about alcohol cessation is when to expect benefits. We expect all the beneficial effects to occur immediately in every aspect of life, and this is not an exception.
The favorable effects of alcohol cessation may occur immediately, but it takes a few weeks or months to achieve them in the full sense. The length of time during which liver recovers from alcohol is not entirely clear. It can vary from one patient to another. Your lifestyle, general health, weight, diet, and other factors play a role in the way the body (and liver) recover from alcohol use.
Many doctors recommend alcohol detox, such as our team’s alcohol detox near Fort Worth, and inpatient alcohol rehab for men (or a gender-separate alcohol rehab center for women) with liver disease caused by alcohol. This is important because people usually don’t think they have an addiction problem. When they develop alcohol-related liver disease, it’s necessary to quit drinking alcohol in order to manage the symptoms and support liver function.
Alcohol abstinence may be difficult for persons who are used to having a drink or two every day. Even in these situations, treatment at the residential alcohol treatment center in DFW proves to be useful and effective.
Don’t Forget About Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol cessation has favorable effects on not just the liver but the entire body. Nevertheless, you may feel some uncomfortable symptoms first. This happens because, during detox, alcohol withdrawal kicks in.
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 i.e.; you may experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms. You’re probably wondering what the post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) are and they may vary from patient to patient, but 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. That’s the main benefit of 90-day residential alcohol rehab center.
Why is this important?
After onset, these symptoms may seem to only get worse. You may experience cravings and feel that alcohol cessation is causing more harm than good. However, remember that alcohol withdrawal symptoms are temporary. They are the first obstacle you need to overcome on the road to successful recovery and improved liver health. Costs can be significantly reduced when you opt for alcohol detox that takes insurance.
When you look for alcohol detox near me, you’ll get all the guidance and education you need about withdrawal symptoms and everything you can expect.
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.
Are You Struggling With Alcohol Abuse or Alcoholism?
If you’re struggling putting the bottle down and are looking for a long-term solution, give our team a call at (817) 993-9733.
We offer an alcohol detox program, which typically lasts from 2-7 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.
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!
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction as well as the pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center’s status at the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content creation. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.