What is alcoholic cirrhosis?
The liver fulfills an extremely important function for the human body. It filters the blood of toxins, breaks down proteins, and creates bile to help the body absorb fats. How much alcohol causes cirrhosis? Alcoholic Cirrhosis is a disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption. When a person drinks alcohol heavily over the course of decades, the body starts to replace the liver’s healthy tissue with scar tissue. As the disease progresses, and more of the healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, the liver will stop functioning properly. After heart disease and cancer, alcoholic cirrhosis is the third most common cause of death in people aged 45-65 years.
According to the scientific piece, ‘Alcohol use disorder and the liver’ published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd., “alcohol use disorders (AUD) cause a range of physical harms, but the major cause of alcohol-related mortality is an alcohol-related liver disease (ALD), in some countries accounting for almost 90% of alcohol-related deaths. The risk of ALD has a positively correlated relationship with increasing alcohol consumption but is also associated with genetic factors, other lifestyle factors, and social deprivation. ALD includes a spectrum of progressive pathology, from liver stenosis to fibrosis and liver cirrhosis. There are no specific treatments for liver cirrhosis, but abstinence from alcohol is key to limit the progression of the disease”.
Excessive drinking can cause scarring of the liver, a condition known as cirrhosis. Although most individuals who drink excessively do not develop cirrhosis, how much alcohol causes cirrhosis is usually unclear. Drinking too much over time can lead to alcoholic hepatitis and then to alcoholic cirrhosis.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), how much alcohol causes cirrhosis is dependent on how quickly a person drinks, how much they weigh, and how often they drink. Individuals who consume more than 6 servings of alcohol per day over several years are likely to develop cirrhosis; however, how much alcohol causes cirrhosis in any given individual can vary.
Chronic severe alcoholic liver failure is fatal and although it can be treated by transplantation, there is a shortage of organs and transplantation is ineffective if you continue to drink heavily. Alcohol-related liver disease is caused by drinking alcohol, usually over a sustained period of time.
Regularly drinking more than the low-risk drinking guidelines (no more than 14 units a week, with several drink-free days) can harm your liver. The more you drink above the recommended limits, the higher your risk of developing alcohol-related liver disease. Some harm to the liver may occur in association with long-term consumption at much lower levels of drinking than the CMOs’ low-risk drinking guidelines.
How much alcohol causes cirrhosis?
Although around seven in 10 people with alcohol-related liver disease have an alcohol dependence problem, it is not only daily drinkers who develop liver disease. Heavy drinking on a few days of the week is also associated with alcohol-related liver disease.
By understanding the impact drinking alcohol can have on your liver and reducing the amount you drink each week, some alcohol-related liver disease may be reversed, or further disease progression prevented. Increased alcohol intake can also give rise to obesity and diabetes. These co-morbidities, together with increased alcohol intake, have been associated with increased mortality from Covid 19.
How does alcohol affect the liver?
Any time we drink alcohol, the liver must break it down before removal from the body. However, due to the toxicity of the products of alcohol’s metabolism, some liver cells die during this process. Having a break from alcohol is important to allow the liver to recover and make new cells. Sustained heavy drinking doesn’t allow the liver time to do this.
This is thought to be why the liver is the organ that sustains the greatest degree of tissue damage through heavy drinking, which leads to alcohol-related liver disease.
The stages of alcohol-related liver disease
Alcohol-related liver disease is a spectrum of disease that broadly consists of three stages, each increasing in severity. It also increases the risk of developing liver cancer.
1. Alcoholic fatty liver disease
Fatty liver develops because of a build-up of fat in the cells in the liver. And drinking a large amount of alcohol, even for just a few days, can lead to a build-up of fat in the liver.
This stage of alcohol-related liver disease does not usually cause any symptoms and may only be identified through a blood test. It’s also reversible by reducing your long-term alcohol consumption below the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) low-risk drinking guidelines. long term.
Your liver will start shedding excess fat if you stop drinking for at least two weeks12 and – after that – ensure you do not exceed the CMOs’ low-risk drinking guidelines. But if you don’t reduce your drinking at this stage, in up to a third of people with this condition, it will progress to the much more serious stages outlined below.
2. Alcohol-related hepatitis
Alcohol-related hepatitis is a potentially serious condition caused by heavy alcohol consumption over a longer period. Between 10–35% of individuals with alcohol-related fatty liver disease who continue drinking heavily will develop alcohol-related hepatitis. As with fatty liver disease, alcohol-related hepatitis may be reversed if you stop drinking. However, continuing to drink any amount of alcohol when you have alcohol-related hepatitis will increase the risk of developing cirrhosis.
Alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver has several causes, one of which is alcohol. The third stage of alcohol-related liver disease is cirrhosis – where healthy liver tissue has been replaced permanently by scar tissue. This is the result of long-term, continuous damage to the liver. If you have cirrhosis and do not stop drinking, then you are likely to die from liver failure. 5,840 people in the UK died of alcohol-related liver disease in 2019. There is always a shortage of donor organs and people who are not abstinent cannot usually access liver transplants.
Alcohol-related cirrhosis increases the risk of developing liver cancer. Of people with liver cirrhosis, every year almost three out of every 100 (2.9%) of them will develop alcohol-related liver cancer.
Symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease
The early stages of alcohol-related liver disease can be difficult to identify as there are not usually any symptoms. Often this means alcohol-related liver disease is diagnosed during tests for other conditions, or at a stage of advanced liver damage.
Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal (tummy) pain
- Loss of appetite
Later stage liver damage symptoms, which are more serious and easier to identify, include:
- Bleeding in the gut
- Easy bruising
- Jaundice (yellow skin)
- Increased sensitivity to alcohol and drugs, both medical and recreational (because the liver cannot process them)
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, or abdomen
- Vomiting blood
- Weakness, loss of appetite
Possible Alcoholic Cirrhosis Complications
Death rates linked to ARLD have risen considerably over the last few decades. Alcohol misuse is now one of the most common causes of death in the US, along with smoking and high blood pressure. According to Nhs.Uk, life-threatening complications of ARLD include:
- Portal hypertension and varices: Portal hypertension is a common complication of alcoholic cirrhosis and, less commonly, alcoholic hepatitis. It occurs when the blood pressure inside your liver has risen to a potentially serious level. When the liver becomes severely scarred, it’s harder for blood to move through it. This leads to an increase in the pressure of blood around the intestines. The blood must also find a new way to return to your heart. It does this by using smaller blood vessels. But these vessels are not designed to carry the weight of blood, so they can become stretched out and weakened. These weakened blood vessels are known as varices. If the blood pressure rises to a certain level, it can become too high for the varices to cope with, causing the walls of the varices to split and bleed. This can cause long-term bleeding, which can lead to anemia. Alternatively, the bleeding can be rapid and massive, causing you to vomit blood and pass stools that are very dark or tar-like. Split varices can be treated by using an endoscope to locate the varices. A tiny band can then be used to seal the base of the varices.
- Ascites: A person with portal hypertension may also develop a build-up of fluid in their abdomen (tummy) and around the intestines. This fluid is known as ascites. Initially, this can be treated with water tablets (diuretics). If the problem progresses, many liters of fluid can build up, which needs to be drained. This is a procedure known as paracentesis and involves a long, thin tube being placed into the fluid through the skin under local anesthetic. One of the problems associated with the development of ascites is the risk of infection in the fluid (spontaneous bacterial peritonitis). This is a potentially very serious complication and is linked to an increased risk of kidney failure and death.
- Hepatic encephalopathy: One of the most important functions of the liver is to remove toxins from your blood. If the liver is unable to do this due to alcoholic cirrhosis, the levels of toxins in the blood increase. A high level of toxins in the blood due to liver damage is known as hepatic encephalopathy. Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy include:
- Muscle stiffness
- Muscle tremors
- Difficulty speaking
- In very serious cases, a coma
- Hepatic encephalopathy may require hospital admission. In hospital, body functions are supported and medicine is used to remove toxins from the blood.
Alcoholic Cirrhosis Treatment
At the moment, there is no specific treatment for ARLD, the best way to slow the damage of the disease is to stop drinking. Preferably for the rest of one’s life. This reduces the risk of further damage to your liver and gives it the best chance of recovering. Although, when this happens to someone that depends on alcohol, stopping drinking can be very difficult. But there’s always support, advice, and medical treatment that can be found. We Level Up California can provide everything you may need to go through a difficult condition like this.
A liver transplant may be required in severe cases where the liver has stopped functioning and does not improve when you stop drinking alcohol. You’ll only be considered for a liver transplant if you have developed complications of cirrhosis despite having stopped drinking. All liver transplant units require a person to not drink alcohol while awaiting the transplant, and for the rest of their life.
Treatment for alcoholism
When it comes to Alcoholism treatment, it is normal to think of 12-step programs or 28-day inpatient rehab, but it becomes difficult to think of more options of treatment for this condition. There are a variety of treatment methods currently available. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are three types of treatment:
- Behavioral Treatments: are aimed at changing drinking behavior through counseling. They are led by health professionals and supported by studies showing they can be beneficial.
- Alcohol addiction medications: Three medications are currently approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse. They are prescribed by a primary care physician or other health professional and may be used alone or in combination with counseling.
- Addiction Peer Support Groups: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs provide peer support for people quitting or cutting back on their drinking. Combined with treatment led by health professionals, mutual-support groups can offer a valuable added layer of support. Due to the anonymous nature of mutual-support groups, it is difficult for researchers to determine their success rates compared with those led by health professionals.
Reclaim Your Life From Alcoholic Cirrhosis
How much alcohol causes cirrhosis? There is not a specific answer to this question, but cirrhosis is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. If you’re suffering from alcoholic cirrhosis and feel like you just can’t stop drinking, we can offer the support you need. We Level Up California can provide you, or someone you know, the tools to treat alcoholism professionally and safely. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors, we can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information, our specialists know what you are going through. Have in mind that each call is private and confidential.
 Williams, R., Alessi, C., Alexander, G., Allison, M., Aspinall, R., Batterham, R. L., … & Yeoman, A. (2021). New dimensions for hospital services and early detection of disease: a Review from the Lancet Commission into liver disease in the UK. The Lancet.