If you drink alcohol and are diagnosed with fatty liver disease, you may wonder if alcohol has caused your condition. The answer depends on what kind of fatty liver disease you have. There are two types of fatty liver disease:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is also known as alcoholic steatosis
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Of the two conditions, NAFLD is not thought to be linked to alcohol use. However, doctors are currently unsure of what causes the condition. Although sometimes NAFLD is mild, it can progress in some patients.
Studies have not clearly shown whether small amounts of alcohol are safe to consume if you have NAFLD. Therefore, it is crucial to talk to your doctor about your particular circumstances to see if moderate drinking is safe for you or not. Heavy drinking should be avoided with NAFLD.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is known to stem from heavy alcohol use over many years. The condition is the first step in alcohol-related liver disease and is the most common alcohol-related liver disease.
When you have alcoholic fatty liver disease, the cells in your liver start to build up with too much fat. Drinking alcohol causes your body to make fat, and also prevents your body from getting rid of some of the fat you have. All of this extra fat is then deposited inside your liver cells, where it can do damage. Some fat can even move from other areas of your body to your liver after you drink.
The liver takes the brunt of the damage because the liver is the main organ in the body that processes alcohol to remove it from your body. Doctors think that if you keep drinking over time, the liver is harmed by:
- Chemicals in your body that harm the fatty cells
- Some types of fats in the cells which can be toxic to your liver
- Direct injury to your liver from alcohol
If you do not stop drinking, alcoholic fatty liver disease can progress to more serious conditions like:
- Liver failure
- Liver cancer
How Much Alcohol Does It Take to Cause Liver Damage?
It is hard to predict how much alcohol causes liver damage. The longer you drink, and the more you drink, the more likely you are to get liver problems from alcohol.
Although it normally takes many years of heavy drinking to cause alcoholic liver disease, certain factors can speed the process, such as if you are taking any medications like acetaminophen that may harm the liver.
Studies have shown that 90% of people who drink more than four to five drinks a day over several years will develop fatty liver from alcohol use.
Symptoms and Effects of Fatty Liver Caused By Alcohol
In most people, alcoholic liver disease symptoms do not occur in the early stages. The fatty liver itself usually has no symptoms. Therefore, people often have fatty liver disease without even knowing it.
However, in some people, alcoholic fatty liver disease can cause symptoms like fatigue and an uncomfortable feeling in the upper right part of your abdomen.
Can You Drink Again After Having Fatty Liver Disease?
If you have fatty liver disease caused by alcohol, it is very important that you quit drinking. If you keep drinking, your liver condition can continue to worsen.
If you stop drinking and your condition has not progressed beyond fatty liver, you may be able to reverse the damage over time. However, if you keep drinking until your condition progresses, you will not be able to reverse it. Unfortunately, 20% of people who keep drinking will go on to develop alcoholic hepatitis, and 25% will develop cirrhosis.
Alcohol Fatty Liver Diagnosis and Treatment
Because there are so few symptoms, it can be hard for doctors to make an alcoholic liver disease diagnosis in the early stages. The disease is often found if you need to have imaging done, or if you have a blood test that comes back showing problems with the chemicals in your liver. Sometimes, however, doctors are not able to find alcoholic fatty liver disease until it progresses into a more dangerous condition like cirrhosis.
Alcoholic fatty liver treatment mainly relies on changes to your lifestyle. These changes include:
- Quitting alcohol completely
- Eating a healthy diet
- Weight loss, if you are overweight
- Getting vaccinations including hepatitis A, hepatitis B, pneumonia, and your yearly influenza (flu) shot
- Exercise, which may reduce the amount of fat in the liver
It is also important to talk to your doctor before taking any vitamins, herbs or supplements. Some products can further damage your liver.
Key Points: Alcohol and Fatty Liver Disease
Important points to remember about alcohol and fatty liver disease include:
- Alcohol is one of the main causes of fatty liver disease
- People who drink heavily over the course of many years have a 90% chance of getting alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Liver disease from alcohol usually does not have symptoms in the early stages
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease is reversible if you stop drinking, but may progress to irreversible liver damage if you keep drinking
If you struggle with alcohol addiction and need help to stop drinking, The Recovery Village is here to help you. Our personalized alcohol addiction treatment programs may work for you, and we have facilities located across the country to ensure that you’re never too far away from the care you deserve. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you lead a healthier life.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Fatty Liver Disease.” MedlinePlus, (n.d.) Accessed April 30, 2019. Ajmera VH, Terrault NA, Harrison SA. “Is Moderate Alcohol Use in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Good or Bad? A Critical Review.” Hepatology, published June 2017. Accessed April 30, 2019. Rasineni K, Casey CA. “Molecular Mechanism of Alcoholic Fatty Liver.” Indian Journal of Pharmacology, published May-June 2012. Accessed April 30, 2019. Osna NA, Donohue TM, Kharbanda KK. “Alcoholic Liver Disease: Pathogenesis and Current Management.” Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, published 2017. Accessed April 30, 2019.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Fatty Liver Disease.” MedlinePlus, (n.d.) Accessed April 30, 2019.
Ajmera VH, Terrault NA, Harrison SA. “Is Moderate Alcohol Use in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Good or Bad? A Critical Review.” Hepatology, published June 2017. Accessed April 30, 2019.
Rasineni K, Casey CA. “Molecular Mechanism of Alcoholic Fatty Liver.” Indian Journal of Pharmacology, published May-June 2012. Accessed April 30, 2019.
Osna NA, Donohue TM, Kharbanda KK. “Alcoholic Liver Disease: Pathogenesis and Current Management.” Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, published 2017. Accessed April 30, 2019.