Is Alcoholism Without Cirrhosis Possible?

Alcoholism is one of the most harmful things for your body possible. When you’re an alcoholic, you’re putting essentially every organ and every part of your body at tremendous risk, and you’re also upping your chances of developing serious and deadly diseases like cancer.

Alcoholism also destroys lives and relationships.

One of the most common health effects and often the most deadly of alcoholism is cirrhosis of the liver, but not every alcoholic gets this liver disease, which leads people to wonder, is alcoholism without cirrhosis possible?

Is Alcoholism Without Cirrhosis Possible?
Before answering the question “is alcoholism without cirrhosis possible,” we’ll look at what alcohol-induced liver cirrhosis is.

The liver has the vital role of filtering toxins from your blood, and it also breaks down protein and creates the bile necessary to absorb fats.

When you drink excessively, particularly over longer periods of time, from years to decades, the healthy tissue of your liver starts to be replaced with scar tissue, which is essentially what cirrhosis is. The more you drink, the more cirrhosis progresses, and eventually, your liver stops functioning the way it’s supposed to.

The development of cirrhosis of the liver doesn’t occur overnight. Rather, it’s part of a progressive situation that usually begins as fatty liver disease. Then, if a person continues to drink that becomes alcoholic hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver, and ultimately cirrhosis.

Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of people who are heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis, and while this is a high and alarming percentage, it indicates that the answer to “is alcoholism without cirrhosis possible,” is yes, although this depends on many individual factors. Some estimates say about a third of alcoholics will develop cirrhosis, and 75 to 80 percent of cases of cirrhosis could be avoided by stopping the use of alcohol.

It usually takes at a minimum ten years of heavy drinking for cirrhosis to develop.

With that being said, it’s not just very heavy alcoholics who get cirrhosis. Some people have damage to their liver and cirrhosis only having two to four drinks per day. Women appear to be more susceptible to cirrhosis with a few number of drinks as well, but generally, the more you drink, the more you up your chances of developing cirrhosis.

This is not only because of the damage alcohol does to your liver, but also because alcoholics tend to have poor diets which is also believed to be a factor contributing to the development of cirrhosis.

Alcoholism with cirrhosis is common, while alcoholism without cirrhosis particularly after years or decades of abuse isn’t so common, but there are also some specific risk factors that may play a role.

First, of course, alcohol abuse is a risk factor, and if you’re someone who drinks heavily for at least eight years, you’re at a greater risk. Heavy drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as having five or more drinks in one day for at least five of the past 30 days.

Women are more at risk for alcoholic liver disease because they don’t have as many of the enzymes in their stomach to break down alcohol as men, and this allows more alcohol to reach the liver and create the scar tissue that develops into cirrhosis.

There are also genetic factors that play a role in alcoholism with cirrhosis versus alcoholism without cirrhosis.

An example is people who are born with lower amounts of certain enzymes the body uses to eliminate alcohol, and also people who are obese. If you have a high-fat diet or hepatitis C, you are also more likely to get alcoholic cirrhosis.

While alcoholism without cirrhosis is possible, some of the factors a doctor would consider when diagnosing this dangerous liver condition would first include drinking history, and then a set of tests could confirm this diagnosis.

First, anemia tests could be done, which would show blood with too little iron. Other markers include high levels of ammonia in the blood, high blood sugar, high numbers of white blood cells, and liver tissue could also be biopsied and sent to a laboratory.

Of course, while alcoholism without cirrhosis is a possibility, cirrhosis occurring without the presence of alcoholism can also happen.

Some of the reasons someone could get liver cirrhosis not relating to alcohol include having a chronic infection like hepatitis C, a disorder called Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis in which fat cells build up in the liver unrelated to alcohol use, and something called Secondary Biliary Cirrhosis among others.

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