It is common knowledge that alcohol can have negative effects on the liver, so what happens to your liver when you stop drinking?
How Does Heavy Alcohol Use Affect Your Liver?
The liver filters out toxins from the body, and alcohol is a known toxin to the body’s cells. Therefore, heavy drinking, classified as 15 or more drinks per week for men and 8 or more per week for women, takes a toll on the liver by overloading it with toxins that it must then work overtime to filter out. Regular heavy drinking can lead to:
- Fatty liver, or alcoholic steatohepatitis, is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease, and the most common form. Fatty liver is caused by harmful substances that are generated when the liver processes alcohol. These substances damage liver cells and cause fat to accumulate in the liver. Almost all heavy drinkers will develop a fatty liver.
- Hepatitis of the liver is an inflammation of the liver caused by excessive drinking. This disease is most common in those who have been drinking heavily for a long period of time, although moderate drinkers can develop hepatitis of the liver.
- Cirrhosis, where functioning liver tissue is replaced with non-functioning scar tissue. This is the most serious form of liver disease and can lead to cancer or even fatal liver failure.
Heavy drinkers may also experience a multitude of other negative consequences throughout the body such as high blood pressure, weakening of the immune system, stroke, heart disease, learning and memory problems, and digestive problems. They are also at a greater risk of certain cancers and Wernicke-Korsakoff or wet brain syndrome, a serious condition that occurs as the result of thiamine deficiency, common among heavy drinkers.
Symptoms of Liver Damage
Those with liver disease or damage may or may not experience any symptoms at all, and those who do experience symptoms may not experience them until they have already sustained irreversible damage. If symptoms are experienced, they may include:
- Jaundiced skin and eyes
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen
- Extreme fatigue
- Chronic itchiness
- Inexplicable weight loss
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pale stool color
- Dark urine color
- Loss of appetite
- Bruising easily
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you may need to visit your doctor for further examination.
What Happens to Your Liver When You Stop Drinking?
Heavy drinking is obviously detrimental to not just your liver, but to your entire body. So what happens when you stop drinking?
The good news is that the liver is the only organ that can restore and regenerate itself. Because the liver is in a constant state of regeneration, in many cases the healing process can begin within just weeks after foregoing alcohol.
This happens when the liver enlarges already existing healthy cells, and new cells begin to form in the area that has sustained damage or injury. Because of this, a fatty liver can be almost completely reversed within 4-6 weeks of going sober.
Unfortunately, damage caused by alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis cannot be reversed; however, symptoms of both alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis can be managed, and getting sober can limit any further liver damage from occurring. Additionally, chronic liver disease may inhibit the rate of regeneration due to scarring and inflammation. Further study is required in this area.
Additional Physical Health Benefits
In addition to a healthier liver, those who stop drinking can expect other health benefits, including decreased risk of certain cancers, and a healthier heart. Those who cut back on, or quit drinking alcohol altogether can expect to see a decreased risk of heart failure and lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Many people also experience weight loss after going sober, due to consuming fewer calories after cutting out alcohol and the subsequent late-night binges associated with decreased willpower.
Mental Health Benefits
Those who stop drinking are also likely to see mental health benefits as well. Regularly engaging in heavy drinking interferes with chemicals in the brain like dopamine that are responsible for good mental health. When you drink, the brain is overloaded with dopamine, which is why you may crave alcohol. However, over time alcohol can diminish your dopamine receptors which can contribute to increased mood swings and feelings of anxiety and depression when you stop drinking. The sooner you stop drinking the sooner the chemicals in your brain can regulate themselves again, leading you to experience more even, regular moods. Although alcohol may help you to feel drowsier and fall asleep faster it disrupts the vital REM cycle of sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can put you at greater risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, depression, and various cancers. Once you have removed alcohol from the equation you are likely to experience a variety of health benefits, including increased energy levels due to better, deeper sleep.
Many individuals who have gotten sober have also reported improved friendships, self-esteem, and mental clarity.
The bottom line is that although the liver can heal itself a great deal, it cannot heal from the intense scarring left behind by alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. If you are experiencing symptoms of liver disease you should cease alcohol consumption immediately to avoid sustaining any further damage, and if you are finding it difficult to cease alcohol consumption you may need to seek treatment.
Contact Ardu Recovery Center
Navigating an alcohol addiction can be extremely difficult, especially if you are going at it alone. If you’d like to reap the numerous health benefits of sobriety but are unsure of how to stop drinking, the first step is to contact the experts here at Ardu Recovery Center. We serve the Provo, Utah area offering a specialized alcohol addiction treatment program where you can receive guidance through every step of your recovery journey, from detox to sobriety. Our detox programs utilize modern methods to make alcohol detoxification as safe, comfortable, and effective as possible, and we tailor our rehab programs to each individual’s needs so that you can achieve success no matter what challenges you may face.