What is the Connection Between Alcoholism and Liver Disease?
Alcoholism and liver disease are connected because the liver is the primary organ in the body that processes alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption can, over time, result in liver disease. There are three stages of liver disease caused by alcohol consumption that become progressively more severe as alcoholism progresses.
The liver is an organ located in the upper right area of the abdomen. It is used to help the body process sugars, fats and proteins and to metabolize foreign substances in the body, such as medicines, alcohol and toxins. Since the liver is the primary organ involved in the body’s processing of alcohol, it is the most susceptible to damage through excessive alcohol consumption.
Although light alcohol consumption is thought to benefit health, those who drink more heavily are prone to suffer from health problems. To avoid the effects of alcoholism and liver disease, it is suggested that men consume no more than two drinks daily, while women should consume no more than one. In general, the less alcohol consumed the less chance of developing alcohol-related liver disease.
There are three types of liver disease that usually occur in progression as alcoholism and liver disease become worse. The first and most common type of liver disease caused by alcohol consumption is steatosis, also known as fatty liver. It involves an accumulation of fat in the liver as well as an enlargement of the organ. The symptoms involve discomfort or pain in the right side of the abdomen where the liver is located. This condition is easily reversed when drinking ceases.
As alcoholism continues, liver disease worsens. The next stage is alcoholic hepatitis and is marked by an inflammation of the liver. Alcoholic hepatitis results in the scarring and destruction of liver cells. Side effects include jaundice, enlarged liver and increased white blood cell count. Many individuals with alcoholic hepatitis go on to develop cirrhosis of the liver.
Alcoholism and liver disease may eventually result in the most severe stage of liver disease, liver cirrhosis. Cirrhosis of the liver includes a destruction of liver tissue, resulting in portions of the liver turning into non-functioning scar tissue. The end result of cirrhosis may be kidney failure or liver cancer.
Alcoholism and liver disease are also connected by the malnutrition from which many alcoholics suffer. Malnutrition is a contributing factor in liver disease, and many alcoholics suffer from malnutrition because the majority of their caloric intake comes from alcohol, which is very low in nutrients. Alcohol is also a factor in the malabsorption of nutrients in the intestines, enhancing malnutrition.
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