For how dangerous a drug like alcohol is and its devastating effects on your body, you’d have trouble accepting it was legal. However, that’s if you weren’t conditioned to think drinking is a normal part of our society. There are many to blame for this as well. It’s challenging to go anywhere without being reminded of its presence in our communities. You can walk down the aisle in grocery stores in some states and be bombarded by every liquor imaginable, leave the store, and see advertisements for it everywhere. Once you get home and watch your favorite show, there’s another commercial for it with happy people getting intoxicated. Many of us were conditioned from a young age to think using alcohol is OK, but it’s really not.
When our kids leave the nest and head off to college, it’s implied that they will experiment with alcohol. As they get older, most will grow out of their curiosity, having fulfilled it, while others will get worse and worse over time. It may start as a social crutch to help curb your social anxiety, but it can turn into a full-blown alcohol use disorder (AUD) that requires intensive treatment to get over. When you’ve reached that stage, you’re beginning to harm your body. In the earliest stages, you may feel fine. You can balance life and work while drinking, but you are likely unaware of what’s happening inside of you. The organ that takes the brunt of your alcohol use is your liver, so how long does it take your liver to recover from alcoholism?
Many factors will determine how your body recovers, including how much you drink. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 25.8 percent of those surveyed said they engaged in binge drinking in the past month, with another 6.3 percent admitting to heavy alcohol use in the same time frame. Another trend that has emerged is high-intensity drinking, which is when someone consumes alcohol two or more times the gender-specific binge drinking threshold. This kind of drinking is extremely dangerous and will have profound effects on your liver in the long term. However, you’re 70 to 90 times more likely to end up in the emergency department in the short term.
An estimated 14.5 million people over age 12 are battling an alcohol use disorder in the United States, with 414,000 adolescents aged 12 through 17 dealing with the same. These figures are startling and highlight how much alcohol is being abused and the physical problems that will eventually follow. If you’ve abused alcohol and stopped but want to know when your liver will recover, we’ll explain that in-depth below.
How Alcohol Affects the Liver
Alcohol can take a serious toll on your body and overall health, especially when it’s misused and individuals binge drink. Although a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at the ballgame may not lead to problems, those who can’t drink in moderation could find themselves battling alcohol’s adverse effects. Eventually, misusing or abusing the substance will damage your liver and lead to alcoholic liver disease.
Alcoholic liver disease is the result of drinking heavily for a prolonged period. The more you drink, the more likely your liver will endure scarring and cirrhosis, the last phase of alcoholic liver disease. When you reach this stage, it’s irreversible unless it is diagnosed in its earliest stages. You’ll need a liver transplant to replace the damaged organ in most cases. The individual on the receiving end must abstain from drinking for six months to be eligible for a transplant.
Not everyone who misuses alcohol will develop these conditions, but the odds skyrocket the longer you drink. The condition is more common in those between the ages of 40 and 50; it’s more likely to occur in men than women. However, women can develop the condition by drinking less alcohol than men. If liver disease runs in the family, you’ll be at a greater risk. Your age, gender, diet, and race will also play a role.
If you drink heavily, the concern is warranted if you believe you’re in the early or late stages of alcoholic liver disease. The only way to be sure is by scheduling an appointment with your doctor and expressing your concerns. They will perform an array of tests, including tests of how your liver functions and a biopsy of the organ. They’ll also run other tests to determine if other health conditions are causing the problem.
Symptoms will vary depending on how far along it’s progressed but could include the following:
- Dry mouth and constant thirst
- Severe abdominal pain
- Appetite loss
- Tenderness in the abdomen
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
- Nausea with vomiting
- Nausea without vomiting
- Abdominal bleeding
- Red feet or red hands
- Dark or bloody stool
- Blood in your vomit
- Frequent nose bleeds
- Bleeding gums
- Unusual bleeding
- Spider veins in the chest, face, or abdomen
- Mood swings
- Easy bruising
- Fluid build up in your legs, known as edema
- Fluid build up in abdomen, known as ascites
- Pain in the arms and legs
If you’ve harmed your liver, you must abstain from alcohol immediately. In theory, it sounds simple, but if you’ve become dependent on alcohol, you run the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. Fortunately, with the right help, you can navigate these troubled waters and reach the other side where your physical healing can begin.
Can You Repair a Damaged Liver?
Your liver is among the essential organs in your body. Its duties are severely underrated and underappreciated. It sits beneath your ribs on the right side of your abdomen, and it’s responsible for filtering the body’s waste, producing bile to digest food, storing sugar that boosts your energy, and much more.
Alcoholic liver damage will damage these functions, causing havoc to your body. Fortunately, in its earliest stages, it’s terrible. However, if you fail to take the necessary steps, it can become irreversible and lead to other health conditions, including:
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen, lungs, and heart
- Bleeding conditions
- Infections that stem from fluid buildup, known as bacterial peritonitis
- Increased pressure in your liver’s blood vessels, known as portal hypertension
- Enlarged veins, which lead to bleeding
- Liver cancer
- Kidney failure
- Heart failure
- Hepatic encephalopathy
At this time, there are no drugs or diet options to treat this condition. If you have fatty liver disease, you must stop drinking immediately, improve your diet, and reduce salt intake. The changes you make to your lifestyle will determine your outcome.
If you’re concerned, speak to your primary care physician about medication that can help with fluid buildup in the body. These include blood medications that prevent bleeding, Vitamin K, or antibiotics that treat infections.
In short, you can repair a damaged liver if you’re not too far gone. However, you’ll need help from your doctor and others to achieve this point. Now, how long does it take?
How Long Does It Take to Repair Your Liver from Alcoholism?
There is no predetermined time when your liver will magically repair itself. This is dependent on various factors, including how long you drank, how much you drank, the severity of the damage, and how far you are into your recovery. For some, the process can take a few weeks, while others may need several months for healing to begin. As was mentioned above, if you have cirrhosis or end-stage liver disease, you’ll likely need a transplant. Without it, your outcome is bleak. Prolonged abuse will inhibit the liver’s ability to heal.
If you’re not a heavy drinker, it could take as little as one month for your liver to regenerate itself. If you’ve already sustained liver damage from alcohol consumption, you must abstain for longer than a month. Complete abstinence from alcohol can cure the first two stages of liver damage, which are alcohol hepatitis and fatty liver disease.
It may take some time to heal, but don’t lose hope. Alcohol use damages more than only your liver. If you are fortunate and your liver holds up, other organs could fail. Your safest option is to stop drinking, and you can only do that by seeking professional addiction treatment.