Rehab 4 Addiction

The liver is one of the most important organs in the human body. While many people think its abilities to repair itself warrant them to consume excessive amounts of alcohol, liver damage is on the rise in most developed countries.

This can be caused by a variety of factors, which we will look at in this blog post. We will also teach you about the signs and symptoms to look out for, and if they indicate serious liver damage.

The liver provides many essential processes without which our body would be unable to function correctly. Everything from producing bile which assists with the digestion of food to storing glucose and glycogen.

What Does The Liver Do?

Important tasks the liver performs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Filtering toxins
  • Breaking down nutrients to supply energy
  • Eliminating bacteria from the bloodstream
  • Production of substances that assist with the clotting of blood
  • Assists with fighting infection through the creation of amino acids
  • Storing iron for red blood cells
  • Metabolises body contents and eliminates waste
  • Is responsible for cholesterol creation
  • Balances blood sugar levels

Those are a lot of tasks for one organ. To keep up with the body’s demand, the liver is the only organ in the body that can easily replace lost cells, which allows it to keep working despite accidents or prolonged exposure to unhealthy environments.

The Two Types of Liver Damage

When a liver is damaged in any way, it is called liver disease. There are multiple causes and two primary forms that they take:

1. Acute Liver Damage

This occurs when the damage accumulates quickly in the liver, taking place over mere weeks or months. Exceptionally rarely, there may be instances of extreme changes to the liver that cause acute liver disease within a few days. This is generally caused by excessive use of drugs, alcohol, or some other toxic substance. Acute liver disease is rare when compared with chronic and often culminates in acute liver failure (ALF), which can be deadly.

2. Chronic Liver Damage

This is the most common form of liver disease. Often by the time signs of liver damage are noticeable, it has been present for years.

Causes of Acute Liver Damage

There are many possible causes and associated risk factors linked with acute liver failure, but the most common triggers are listed below:

  • Viruses: Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex, and Hepatitis A, B, E to name a few
  • Certain medications and herbal remedies have side effects that can damage the liver
  • Amanita phalloides, also known as Death Cap mushrooms
  • Autoimmune Hepatitis
  • Wilson’s disease which leads to a build-up of copper in the liver
  • Excessive fat around the liver
  • Septic shock
  • Budd Chiari syndrome
  • Many chemical cleaners have compounds that can damage the liver

Causes of Chronic Liver Damage

Statistically, the number one cause of chronic liver failure is related to excessive, prolonged drinking of alcohol. The other top reasons are Hepatitis B and C, along with Hemochromatosis, a genetic disorder that leads to a toxic build-up of iron in the liver. There are a vast number of other causes and risk factors for chronic liver failure that include the following:

  • Multiple genetic disorders: Lysosomal acid lipase deficiency (LAL-D), Alagille syndrome, Wilson’s disease, and Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • Hepatitis A, alcoholic Hepatitis, and autoimmune Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Oxalosis
  • Liver cancer and liver adenoma
  • Extra fat deposits around the liver
  • Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC)
  • Galactosemia

Non-Alcoholic Liver Damage VS. Alcoholic Fatty Liver: The Difference

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is caused by excessive fat around the liver. The leading causes are obesity, diabetes, and high-fat content in the blood. This can cover a wide range of diseases and disorders.

When it reaches a point where the symptoms become more severe, it is known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). At that stage, there will be liver inflammation, and scarring will begin to accumulate. NAFLD is reversible with lifestyle changes.

How Alcohol Affects the Liver

Alcohol can have a permanent damaging effect on the liver. It can cause both chronic and acute liver failure. The longer the liver has to filter out the toxins from alcohol, the more likely that inflammation and scarring will occur. Below are the most significant effects of alcohol on the liver:

  • Fatty Liver: It only takes a slightly elevated amount of alcohol to cause fatty liver, which is a buildup of fat around the organ, and it can cause significant damage. This fat caused by drinking alcohol can be eliminated by drinking less or obtaining altogether. If left unchecked, the cost will become severe and may be irreversible if it gets to the point where the liver is scarred
  • Alcoholic Hepatitis: When left unchecked, this can result in liver failure and death. There is a 15% mortality rate with Alcoholic Hepatitis
  • Alcoholic Cirrhosis: Alcohol cirrhosis [AC] is scarring of the liver tissue. While the liver is the only organ that can quickly regenerate lost cells, this is not the case for areas that have been scarred over. That damage becomes permanent and decreases the functionality of the entire liver. Once it has developed, there is no cure for it, but it is possible to survive if alcohol is entirely cut out. If there is no abstaining, then the damage will continue to build until liver failure. The mortality rate for 25-34-year-olds with Alcoholic cirrhosis is approximately 76%
  • Liver Cancer: Hepatocellular carcinoma, liver cancer, is more common among people who have alcoholic cirrhosis. The exact link between the two has not been isolated yet. Still, it is believed that the scarring causes issues with the liver’s natural cell regeneration process leading to possible mutations and cancer

Symptoms of Liver Damage

Most of the liver disease symptoms are similar to that of the flu with added aches and pains. The signs that will show up first will be things like sleeping and appetite irregularities, an overall feeling of sickness, and abdominal pain.

As the organ deteriorates further, the visible signs of damage become more severe and begin to include things like vomiting blood and potentially falling into a coma. By the time these symptoms are noticeable, the liver will have been significantly injured, possibly even permanently scarred.

Preventing Liver Damage

There are a number of ways you can protect your liver from the diseases and disorders that we have detailed. First, if you are someone who drinks, you should remain at or below the healthy threshold – one drink a day for women and two for men.

Anything above that has the potential to cause severe problems for your liver. If you take medications, then make sure only to use them how and when you are instructed to by a medical professional. Follow all instructions for over the counter medications. Illicit drugs of all types should be avoided.

Your lifestyle choices and eating habits will also play a part in preventing liver damage. Here are a few things to avoid.

  • Overeating – being overweight can easily lead to a fatty liver
  • Using dirty needles (e.g., with illicit drugs, at tattoo parlours, etc.)
  • Wear a mask or work in an open space when using aerosols
  • Wear personal protective gear (e.g., mask, hat, gloves, etc.) when working with toxic chemicals of any type
  • Get yourself vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B if you find yourself at risk for contracting it
  • Always wear protection during sex and avoid bodily fluids
  • Follow strict hygiene rules when preparing food

When You Should Call Your Doctor

If you find yourself tired, weak, and suffer from unexpected weight loss, then it is time to visit a medical doctor to get a check-up. Most of the symptoms can be brushed off as stress, overwork, or the flu, but by the time it reaches the point where most people are feeling lethargic and losing weight, there will be visible signs of damage to the liver.

Persistent vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain without any known cause should also cause concern. Another thing that should encourage you to see a doctor is jaundiced skin. This yellow of the skin and around the eyes is not normal and always means that something is wrong.

Treating Alcohol-Induced Liver Damage

Abstaining from drinking alcohol is the single most significant step anyone can take towards getting better when diagnosed with alcohol-induced liver disease.

If addiction is involved, then detox services at a treatment facility will be necessary. There are medications to assist with the liver inflammation and other physical manifestations of the disease.

If caught in the early stages, there are lifestyle changes that can help reverse the damage. Exercising, eating healthy, losing weight, taking multivitamins, and not smoking are all things that have been proven to help reverse the effects after initial symptoms begin to appear.

When the disease has progressed too far for the liver to be saved, then a transplant is necessary.

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Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.