Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on 9/18/2023
It’s no secret that alcohol can do major damage to the liver. But here’s the good news: your liver is more resilient than you think. When you say goodbye to alcohol, the liver will start regenerating itself.
Our alcohol addiction treatment program can help you get your liver and overall health back on track. We offer medical support, therapy, and comprehensive aftercare to help you through the recovery process.
Read on to learn more about the many benefits that take place when you take a break from alcohol for good.
The liver is a large, multifunctional organ located in the upper right side of the abdomen, just beneath the rib cage. It is one of the body’s largest and most vital organs, with complex biochemical functions.
Maintaining a healthy liver is crucial for:
Unlike most of our organs, the liver has an incredible ability to regenerate itself. Its unique architecture, specialized cells, and complex molecular signaling regulate regeneration and regrowth.
According to a 2021 study, “even after years of heavy alcohol use, the liver has a remarkable regenerative capacity and, following alcohol removal, can recover a significant portion of its original mass and function.” The liver can grow new cells to repopulate damaged areas and completely restore lost function, even if up to 75% of the liver is removed or damaged.
For many people who consume alcohol every day and in excessive amounts, the consequences for their livers can be dire. Excessive alcohol consumption impairs its normal functions, leading to more than just a hangover.
While some symptoms of alcohol-related liver damage may appear, they often don’t manifest until significant impairment has already occurred.
Here are some symptoms you may notice if your liver is damaged by alcohol:
If you have a history of excessive drinking, it’s important not to wait for the symptoms to appear. Catching liver damage early increases the likelihood that it can be reversed before it develops into a life-threatening condition.
The best chance you’ve got to recover your liver entirely is to quit alcohol. With the right help, you can regain control and heal from alcoholism’s adverse effects. Contact us today to start your recovery.
The liver works hard to process and metabolize alcohol. This places substantial stress on the cells, which can inflict increasing damage over time in chronic heavy drinkers. Because a lot of cellular machinery is involved, other normal metabolic functions of the liver start to suffer. This means that your liver will have a harder time regulating cholesterol, sugar, hormones, and detoxifying waste products and drugs.
The process of breaking down alcohol also generates toxic byproducts that damage liver cells. Excessive alcohol consumption can overload the liver, leading to liver damage and detrimental effects on metabolism, digestion, immunity, and more.
People who regularly consume excessive amounts of alcohol will eventually develop some form of liver disease.
One of the earliest effects that alcohol has on the liver is the accumulation of fat deposits in liver cells, known as fatty liver disease. As the liver metabolizes alcohol, the chemical byproducts generated interfere with the liver’s ability to break down fats. This causes excess fat to build up inside liver cells.
The more a person drinks, the more fat continues to amass inside the liver cells, a process called steatosis. This fat accumulation makes it difficult for the liver to carry out its normal metabolic, detoxification, and protein synthesis functions. The liver becomes enlarged and swollen. Blood tests show elevated liver enzymes as the fatty liver struggles to work properly.
Continued alcohol misuse will lead to ongoing inflammation that causes permanent damage. Liver cells become clogged with fat and can get trapped and die off. They are gradually replaced with scar tissue in a process known as fibrosis.
The liver sustains the greatest degree of tissue injury by heavy drinking because it is the primary site of ethanol metabolism. Chronic and excessive alcohol consumption produces a wide spectrum of hepatic lesions, the most characteristic of which are steatosis, hepatitis, and fibrosis/cirrhosis. (Osna, et. al.)
If you quit drinking, this condition can be reversible. The extraordinary regenerative abilities of the liver allow the fat deposits to diminish over time.
Continued excessive drinking leads to chronic inflammation in the liver, known as alcoholic hepatitis. This recurring inflammation is triggered by repeated exposure to alcohol’s toxic effects and byproducts as the liver metabolizes alcohol.
Damaged and dying liver cells provoke immune responses as the body tries to clear debris and repair tissue. This causes swelling, leukocyte infiltration, and the release of cytokines, inflammatory chemical signals. Cytokines attack white blood cells, perpetuating the inflammatory cascade.
Osna, et. al. suggest that chronic inflammation also activates molecules like macrophages, which trigger cell death pathways in liver cells.
Central to the progression of alcoholic hepatitis are resident and infiltrating immune cells called macrophages, which have important roles in inducing liver inflammation. KCs, the resident macrophages in the liver, represent up to 15 percent of liver cells and 50 percent of all macrophages in the body. They reside in the liver sinusoids and provide the first line of defense, serving as potent innate immune cells. In contrast, infiltrating macrophages are recruited as immature cells from the bone marrow, and their differentiation into macrophages in the liver only occurs during inflammation.
This recurring attack of immune cells and inflammatory chemicals causes widespread death of liver cells, and, eventually, it could lead to liver fibrosis. Fibrosis impairs blood flow and the replacement of damaged liver tissues.
Alcoholic hepatitis has serious consequences, as inflammation impedes the liver’s ability to remove toxins, metabolize nutrients, produce proteins, regulate hormones, and perform other vital roles. Alcoholic hepatitis can progress to fibrosis, cirrhosis, and end-stage liver failure.
The recurring inflammation caused by alcohol metabolism leads to more than alcoholic hepatitis. We mentioned fibrosis, or scarring, of the liver. Fibrosis occurs because chronic inflammation kills off liver cells, and specialized cells called hepatic stellate cells rush in to repair the damage by laying down collagen and other fibers.
Activated hepatic stellate cells, portal fibroblasts, and myofibroblasts of bone marrow origin have been identified as major collagen-producing cells in the injured liver. These cells are activated by fibrogenic cytokines such as TGF-β1, angiotensin II, and leptin. (Bataller and Brenner)
Over time, this process results in healthy liver tissue being replaced with non-functioning scar tissue. The fibrotic tissue cannot perform the liver’s normal metabolic functions, but it interrupts normal blood flow through the liver. The scar tissue blocks off smaller vessels that nourish liver cells, impeding blood flow and impairing oxygen delivery.
As fibrosis spreads, the liver starts to lose its critical filtering capacity. Toxins, hormones, medications and waste products cannot be properly metabolized and detoxified. Liver function declines further as scar tissue replaces more functional tissue.
Advanced fibrosis also hinders the liver’s production of essential proteins like albumin and blood clotting factors. It cannot adequately metabolize fats, carbs, vitamins, and minerals either. Widespread fibrosis has grave implications for liver function.
As fibrosis continues to spread through the liver, it eventually leads to the end-stage disease known as cirrhosis. Alcohol-related cirrhosis occurs when most of the liver cells have been replaced with non-functional scar tissue.
In cirrhosis, the normal soft liver tissue is distorted by fibrotic bands and nodules of hard scar tissue. This disrupts the liver’s normal anatomical structure and blood vessels. The liver becomes lumpy and shrunken rather than smooth, and takes on a hardy texture.
The circulating blood flow through the liver becomes severely impaired as the remaining liver cells cannot get enough oxygen and nutrients. This can result in liver failure. The liver essentially shrinks down, hardens, and starts shutting down essential functions.
Despite the liver’s ability to regenerate itself, this extensive scarring of cirrhosis cannot be reversed. By the time extensive cirrhosis has set in, the liver has suffered irreparable damage from alcohol metabolism. This is why alcoholic cirrhosis represents a serious threat to life.
According to liver research, “up to 50% of cirrhosis-associated deaths are due to alcohol abuse in the US.”
Even in the absence of cirrhosis, heavy alcohol consumption has been conclusively linked to an increased risk of developing several types of liver cancer.
Here’s how these alcohol-related effects—in isolation or combined—increase the risk of liver cancer:
Researchers from Italy have shown that chronic alcohol intake is the most common cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), responsible for about one-third to nearly half of cases.
…a significant relationship between alcohol intake, metabolic changes, and hepatitis virus infection does exist. Alcohol may be a factor in the development of HCC via direct (genotoxic) and indirect mechanisms (cirrhosis).
The research concluded that, if a person stops drinking alcohol, their risk of liver cancer starts to decrease, but it takes a long time, about 23 years, to go back to a lower level.
Heavy drinking is obviously detrimental to your entire body. The good news is that the liver has remarkable regenerative abilities. But what happens to your liver when you stop drinking?
Give it enough time and see how your liver rebuilds itself from the inside out when alcohol is no longer impairing this process.
Medical evidence suggests that, even after years of heavy drinking, the liver can bounce back and regain much of its original health and function when you quit alcohol. Other organs—such as the brain, heart, pancreas, and kidneys—can also recover.
Yin et al. examined recovery in rats subjected to intragastric alcohol feeding, during which rodents are given continual intragastric infusion of an alcohol diet through an inserted cannula. Liver damage in these animals is typically greater than in animals given oral feeding of alcohol ad lib. Alcohol removal for 2 weeks nearly normalized all liver functions in rats previously subjected to 6 weeks of intragastric alcohol administration. (Thomas, et. al.)
In another study, the researchers wanted to understand how alcohol withdrawal can help the liver recover. They used a mouse model to mimic alcohol-induced liver disease in humans and studied what happens when these mice stop drinking alcohol for a week. Here’s what they found:
The first few weeks after quitting may be the hardest, as alcohol withdrawal symptoms set in. Your liver tries to recover—and the rest of your body too. We can help you in the process. We’re here to facilitate your recovery and hold your hand every step of the way at our drug and alcohol rehab center.
Read more about what happens to your brain when you give up drinking for good.
Your liver is a remarkable organ with the capacity to heal and regenerate. If you’ve experienced liver damage due to factors like alcohol abuse or alcohol-related liver disease and have taken steps to address the underlying causes, you may wonder how to tell if your liver is healing.
Here are some signs that your liver may be on the path to recovery:
There are so many positive things that await you—and your liver—once you part ways with alcohol. Just imagine how good it will feel to wake up feeling truly rested, hydrated, and ready to start your day with extra energy.
Now that you’ve made the courageous decision to stop drinking, your liver is eager to start rebuilding healthy new cells without the daily damage inflicted by alcohol. While your liver has amazing natural regenerative abilities, there are also some simple lifestyle measures you can take to further support and speed up your recovery.
You’ve got this.
Navigating an alcohol addiction can be extremely difficult. If you’d like to reap the numerous health benefits of sobriety but are unsure of how to stop drinking, your first step is to contact the experts here at Ardu Recovery Center.
We serve the Provo, Utah area offering a specialized alcohol detox program to make your recovery journey as safe, comfortable, and effective as possible. We tailor our rehab programs to each individual’s needs so that you can achieve success no matter what challenges you may face.
In general, the liver can start to recover within weeks or months of alcohol cessation. Initially, your liver will focus on repairing minor damage and reducing inflammation. Over time, it can regenerate and regain function, but this process may take several months to years.
The timeline for liver healing after quitting alcohol depends on individual factors and the extent of liver damage. For people with severe alcoholic liver disease or alcohol-related cirrhosis, complete recovery may not be possible, but quitting alcohol can slow or halt further damage.
After one month of alcohol abstinence, you may begin to notice positive changes in your liver. Liver fat levels can start to decrease, and inflammation may reduce. Liver enzymes that were elevated due to alcohol damage may begin to normalize. Your energy levels may improve, and symptoms like jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) may start to fade.
Be aware that complete healing may take much longer, and it’s crucial to continue abstaining from alcohol for continued improvement.
While there’s no magic “fast” detox for the liver, you can support liver health by adopting a healthy lifestyle. This includes staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, limiting processed foods, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption. Regular exercise can also aid in liver health.
Forty days of abstinence from alcohol can offer several benefits. By this point, liver fat levels can significantly decrease, improving liver function and metabolism. You may also notice improved energy levels, better sleep, and clearer skin. Quitting alcohol for 40 days can break harmful drinking patterns, potentially reducing the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
After one week of not drinking alcohol, you may start to experience improved sleep quality, increased hydration, and better digestion. Your liver will begin the process of detoxifying your body, and liver enzymes may start to return to normal levels. Some people also report enhanced mental clarity and reduced feelings of fatigue and irritability.
Cirrhosis can lead to sudden death, especially in its advanced stages. Cirrhosis can cause severe complications such as liver failure, internal bleeding, and infections, any of which can be life-threatening. Regular medical attention, early intervention, and lifestyle changes are crucial for individuals with cirrhosis to prevent sudden, severe complications.
The liver continually detoxifies the body by processing and eliminating toxins. Signs that your liver is working to detoxify include improved digestion, more regular bowel movements, clearer skin, increased energy, and improved overall well-being.
These signs may not be immediately noticeable, and the liver detoxifies the body consistently, not in short-term “detox” phases. The best way to support your liver’s detoxification process is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption. Regular medical check-ups can also help assess liver function.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can manifest with a wide range of symptoms, and the severity depends on the duration and level of alcohol use. Chronic alcohol users are more likely to experience intense withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit or significantly reduce their alcohol intake due to their higher degree of alcohol dependence.
Here are some common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome:
If you have alcohol dependency, quit or reduce your alcohol intake. Alcohol withdrawal can be a serious medical emergency, and seeking timely medical attention is critical for the safety and well-being of the individual.
Alcohol can affect insulin and blood glucose levels. When you consume alcohol, especially in excessive amounts, it can lead to several effects related to insulin and glucose metabolism.
If you have diabetes or are at risk of diabetes, try to be mindful of your alcohol consumption and monitor your blood sugar levels accordingly.
Thomes, P., Rasineni, K., Saraswathi, V., Kharbanda, K. K., Clemens, D. L., Sweeney, S., Kubik, J. L., Donohue, T. M., & Casey, C. A. (2021, January 1). Natural Recovery by the Liver and Other Organs After Chronic Alcohol Administration. Alcohol Research; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v41.1.05
Osna, N. A. (2017). Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease: Pathogenesis and Current Management. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513682/
Bataller, R., & Brenner, D. A. (2005, February 1). Liver fibrosis. Journal of Clinical Investigation; American Society for Clinical Investigation. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci24282
Ohashi, K., Pimienta, M., & Seki, E. (2018, December 1). Alcoholic liver disease: A current molecular and clinical perspective. Liver Research; Elsevier BV. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livres.2018.11.002
Testino, G., Leone, S., & Borro, P. (2014, January 1). Alcohol and hepatocellular carcinoma: A review and a point of view. World Journal of Gastroenterology; Baishideng Publishing Group. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i43.15943
Thomes, P., Rasineni, K., Saraswathi, V., Kharbanda, K. K., Clemens, D. L., Sweeney, S., Kubik, J. L., Donohue, T. M., & Casey, C. A. (2021, January 1). Natural Recovery by the Liver and Other Organs After Chronic Alcohol Use. Alcohol Research; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://doi.org/10.35946/arcr.v41.1.05
Pi, A., Jiang, K., Ding, Q., Lai, S., Yang, W., Zhu, J., Guo, R., Fan, Y., & Chi, L. (2021, September 16). Alcohol Abstinence Rescues Hepatic Steatosis and Liver Injury via Improving Metabolic Reprogramming in Chronic Alcohol-Fed Mice. Frontiers in Pharmacology; Frontiers Media. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.752148