The Connection Between Liver Health and Addiction
Why is the liver so important? The simple truth is that your liver is essential to your health throughout your life. This large, reddish-brown organ performs multiple bodily functions that are necessary to live. Consider the following facts:
- The liver is a superstar organ. In fact, it can regenerate itself. Without a healthy liver, you will become very ill. Using alcohol or drugs seriously impairs liver function.The main function of the liver is to filter the blood.
- The liver removes toxins from the body.
- The liver processes food into energy.
- The liver provides essential nutrients to the rest of the body.
- The liver secretes bile to assist with healthy digestion.
- The liver breaks down medications (chemicals) so that the body can quickly use them.
- The liver stores critical vitamins and minerals such as Vitamins A, D, K and B12, and the mineral iron.
How Alcohol Impairs the Liver
In healthy individuals, the liver functions to break down alcohol so it can be efficiently removed from the body. Your liver can be easily damaged if you drink more alcohol than it can properly process.
Many people in our society may not consider alcohol a drug, but it is. Alcohol abuse is a leading cause of liver disease. In fact, on a global scale, excessive alcohol consumption is the most common cause of cirrhosis.
Long-term excessive alcohol abuse can lead to permanent scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is composed of inflammation, death of cells and thickening of tissue in the liver.
Specific Liver Functions Impaired by Alcohol
Specific functions of the liver can become impaired by consuming an excess of alcohol. The following health issues can occur as a result:
- Clotting and increased bruising. The liver is necessary for proper blood clotting factors, so someone with severe cirrhosis bruises easily.
- Fluid retention and swelling. Albumin is a protein made by the liver. It’s responsible for keeping fluid in the blood vessels. If the liver cannot produce enough albumin, the legs, ankles and abdomen can become swollen. This is often referred to as edema, the medical term for swelling.
- Poor immune health. When the liver is overcome by too much alcohol to process for an extended period of time, the result is often liver disease. When the liver cannot perform properly, it decreases the body’s ability to use its natural defenses for immune help. This makes it more difficult to fight off infections.
- Fatigue. Exhaustion is common among people suffering from cirrhosis.
- Variceal bleeding. Cirrhosis can cause a blockage of blood flow through the liver. This then causes increased pressure to other veins throughout the body, causing them to become enlarged and fragile. In rare cases this can cause hemorrhaging and fluid collection in the abdomen.
- Hepatic encephalopathy. When the liver cannot detoxify normally, harmful substances enter the blood stream and can lead to confusion and changes in behavior.
Stages of Liver Disease
Medical professionals diagnose and sort alcohol-relative liver disease into three main categories:
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease. The condition of fatty liver disease refers to the earliest stage of liver disease from alcohol-related causes. There are usually no outward symptoms, and if the individual abstains entirely from future alcohol consumption, the damage to the liver can be minimal.
- Alcoholic hepatitis. Hepatitis is classified as liver inflammation. Imperative in the detoxification process, the liver shouldn’t be overloaded with alcohol or drugs. This can lead to inflammation of this essential organ and prevent successful detoxification. It’s estimated that 35 percent of drinkers have alcoholic hepatitis. This type of hepatitis can occur without warning and lead to serious problems, including death.
- Alcoholic cirrhosis. Drinking too much alcohol over an extended period of time can damage the liver so severely that it cannot properly function. This is called cirrhosis. Alcoholic cirrhosis is the most advanced type of liver disease caused by alcohol. It permanently scars the liver. It’s not reversible and may lead to liver failure. Between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis.