Alcoholism doesn’t just affect your liver, but really every area of your body. The liver just tends to get the most attention because the damage can be the most severe and impactful.
When you drink, it can lead to three primary liver conditions which are fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis, which is essentially when the liver becomes scarred.
Your liver is one of your vital organs that performs the essential function of filtering out the bad stuff from your blood. It also makes the bile necessary to digest food, stores energy, creates hormones and proteins, and helps you fight off disease and illness.
Drinking, whether it’s binge drinking occasionally, or being a chronic drinker of alcoholic, can cause many problems for your overall health and the health of your liver.
Here’s why the liver plays such an important role in alcohol and how it’s processed:
Your liver holds a big chunk of your body’s full blood supply at any given time, and one of the many roles of the liver is to break down alcohol when you drink it. Your liver doesn’t store alcohol, but instead, it metabolizes it, and the average liver has the ability to process the equivalent of about one small drink an hour. When you process alcohol, it’s turned into acetaldehyde, which is a toxic substance and then it continues to be broken down into other substances from there.
When you drink heavily, it puts a strain on your liver, and it also disrupts how your liver processes the alcohol.
How the body processes alcohol is a key way to understand the result of alcoholism with liver damage. Also important to answering the question of why does alcoholism destroy the liver is the specific harm that’s done to the liver over time.
When you start to see alcoholism with liver damage symptoms, it often means the extent of the damage has gone far, because it can take a long time for symptoms to become apparent, which is why liver disease is often known as a silent disease.
The Development of Cirrhosis
When you drink too much over a long period, your liver becomes fatty because of bloating and inflammation. This leads to scarring, which is what leads to cirrhosis.
Fatty liver disease is the earliest stage of what’s called alcohol-related liver disease, and it’s the most common of these disorders. Fatty liver is also referred to as steatosis, and there are usually no symptoms, although you may experience some upper abdominal pain on your right side. It can happen pretty quickly if you drink, and if you stop drinking it will usually go away.
Cirrhosis, on the other hand, can take longer because it involves the replacement of healthy tissue in your liver with scar tissue. Cirrhosis is what we most often think of when we think about alcoholism with liver damage and alcoholism with liver damage symptoms.
Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis.
Some of the signs of alcoholism with liver damage symptoms indicating cirrhosis include accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, high blood pressure in the liver, an enlarged spleen, and changes in behavior, as well as confusion. There is some belief that cirrhosis can be reversed, but not necessarily in all cases.
The procession of alcoholism with liver damage starts with fatty liver disease, and then moves to alcoholic hepatitis and then to alcohol cirrhosis, although the order can be different in some cases. Some of the complications of alcoholism with liver damage can include brain disorders, bleeding from veins in the stomach or esophagus, kidney failure, and liver cancer.
Why Alcoholism Causes Pancreatitis
Along with looking at why does alcohol destroy the liver, it’s also relevant to consider how alcoholism causes pancreatitis. There is acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis.
The pancreas is a gland behind the stomach responsible for releasing digestive enzymes and the hormones insulin and glucagon. An inflamed pancreas is called pancreatitis.
Acute pancreatitis is sudden onset inflammation that’s short in duration. It can range pretty significantly from being mildly uncomfortable, to fatal, but most people recover.
Chronic pancreatitis has symptoms similar to acute, but there’s frequent pain, weight loss, and there is the potential for diabetes to develop as well.
In the majority of cases, alcohol causes acute pancreatitis, although other causes may include trauma, metabolic conditions or infections. Heavy, long-time alcohol use accounts for about 70% of chronic pancreatitis.
With this being said, doctors aren’t exactly sure how alcoholism causes pancreatitis or why alcoholism causes pancreatitis. It’s believed to be because alcohol molecules interfere with the cellular activity of the pancreas causing it to malfunction.
Having chronic pancreatitis puts you at risk for other serious illnesses including cancer and diabetes, but if you stop drinking you up your chances significantly of recovering from pancreatitis.