Few recreational substances are as ubiquitous as alcohol in the world, particularly in the United States. Alcohol is a much more common recreational psychoactive substance than most other substances, with 85.6% of Americans having tried it at least once.

There is only one type of chemical in the alcohol category that humans can consume safely, and that is ethanol. However, too much alcohol can have serious negative effects on your physical health. How does alcohol affect your health, and how long does it take to recover from that damage?

The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism can certainly take a toll on a person over time. It can affect you mentally, emotionally, and financially as it starts to take over various aspects of your life. However, long-term heavy drinking can lead to serious medical problems as well. Alcohol misuse and abuse can affect the following aspects of your physical health:

  • Organ problems like liver disease, kidney disease, and digestion problems.
  • Heart problems like hypertension, heart disease, or stroke
  • Certain cancers that affect the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum
  • Weakened immune system, which increases your chances of getting sick

Some of these medical issues can be reversed with abstinence, healthcare, and a healthy lifestyle. Others are chronic medical conditions that last for a long time once they start. Without treatment or interventions, many medical health issues caused by alcoholism can be fatal.

What Are the Stages of Alcoholic Liver Disease?

Over time, alcoholism can slowly damage your liver, leading to three different stages of the disease: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and liveralcoholic nose cirrhosis. Drinking heavily for a short period of time can lead to fatty liver, drinking heavily over a long time can lead to hepatitis, and drinking heavily for years can lead to cirrhosis. Recovery may look different at each stage.

A fatty liver can usually be treated with abstinence from alcohol, but cirrhosis requires serious medical intervention. The urgency of addressing a substance use disorder (SUD) increases as liver disease progresses. Here’s a breakdown of the stages of alcoholic liver disease:

Fatty Liver

Steatosis, or fatty liver, is an early stage of liver disease. An enlarged liver can be caused by an accumulation of fat in the liver, which is what fatty liver is, essentially. Continuing to drink can lead to more dangerous stages of liver disease. After a night of heavy binge drinking, fat can begin accumulating in the liver within a few hours.

Abstinence, however, can reverse liver fat accumulation. In addition to some drugs and pregnancy, there are other factors that can cause fatty liver. Alcohol may cause fatty liver that cannot be distinguished from other causes. Excessive alcohol consumption, however, can worsen liver problems caused by other factors. When it comes to recovering from fatty liver disease, abstinence from alcohol is the best solution.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

You can develop alcoholic hepatitis if you continue to drink as fat accumulates in your liver. Liver inflammation is referred to as hepatitis. It is possible for inflammation to damage the liver and inhibit its function. In some cases, it may not cause any symptoms at all, causing damage to your body without you even being aware of it.

Heavy drinkers who don’t take a break from drinking for a long time are most likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis. Besides bloating and abdominal pain, hepatitis can also cause nausea, vomiting, weight loss, loss of appetite, and yellow skin and eyes. A person’s belly size can also be affected by liver inflammation, which may be noticeable.


Cirrhosis caused by alcohol causes extensive scarring on the liver that impairs its functionality. Due to scarring, your liver becomes stiff and inflamed, making it less able to filter your blood effectively. Here are some symptoms you may experience:

  • Muscle tone loss
  • Bruising easily
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Swelling of the legs or abdomen
  • Bleeding in the mouth
  • Vomiting blood
  • Red patches on the palms of your hand

As well as confusion, poor memory, and poor concentration, cirrhosis can also cause some cognitive symptoms. Cirrhosis needs to be treated as soon as possible if you see any signs. A failure of the liver can be fatal if untreated.

Is Alcoholic Liver Disease Reversible?

In order to deal with toxins in your blood, the liver is designed to be extremely resistant to long-term damage. Your liver can return to its original size and function even with just 30% remaining. There is, however, a significant challenge in treating extensive damage.

Depending on a few factors, alcoholic liver disease may be reversible. The state of your disease is the first factor to consider. Heavy drinking can result in fatty liver, but your liver can recover from it after a break.

While alcohol-induced hepatitis can be hard to treat, many interventions could reverse it, including nutrition planning, infection treatment, and medications and therapies. However, it is not possible to reverse cirrhosis.

You’ll need serious medical treatment to avoid dangerous complications due to the extensive damage and scarring on your liver. A liver transplant will improve your prognosis if you have liver cirrhosis.

You must also be willing to seek treatment for your alcohol use disorder. Alcoholic liver disease requires alcohol abstinence at every stage. Your liver will only get worse if you don’t stop drinking. Although alcohol-related liver disease may seem like enough reason to stop drinking, addiction causes strong compulsions to consume alcohol despite evidence of serious consequences.

Many people find it difficult to stop drinking on their own, even if they have a strong desire to do so. The good news is that addiction can be treated, and it is possible to achieve sobriety and abstinence through which your liver can be healed.

It’s important to treat your alcohol use disorder even if your liver has reached the stage of cirrhosis. Abstaining from drugs and alcohol is usually required before getting a liver transplant. It is important that you comply with these requirements to prevent further damage to the new liver you receive.

Is Alcoholic Heart Disease Reversible?

Like alcoholic liver disease, alcohol can also lead to heart problems like hypertension, fatty heart, and other issues. Addressing your alcohol use problems can improve heart health. Along with other treatments and lifestyle changes, you can lower blood pressure and decrease your risk of a dangerous heart attack or stroke. However, like liver disease, there is a point of no return for heart disease that alcohol use causes. If you reach the point of developing alcoholic cardiomyopathy, the only treatment left may be to receive a heart transplant. Still, you will need to get your alcohol use problems under control.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From Alcoholism?

If you are experiencing alcohol-related medical issues, how long will it take for you to get better? Physical healing from alcohol use disorders takes time, but the good news is that results will begin immediately. Even though full recovery can take a long time, especially if you have severe medical issues, your heart and liver health can start improving within days of achieving sobriety.

Among your organs, the liver is unique in its ability to regenerate. Liver damage can be repaired even after severe damage. It can regenerate to its original mass within 30 days if more than half of the liver’s cells are destroyed.

The length of time it takes for your liver to heal from alcoholic liver disease will depend on the stage you’re experiencing. After developing fatty liver, abstinence from alcohol for two weeks may be sufficient to repair the liver. The damage caused by alcoholic hepatitis may be more extensive and take longer to repair. Other treatment options, such as nutritional support, may also be necessary.

Heart health may take a bit longer to recover. If your heart is damaged, it may take several months before it is significantly recovered from severe alcoholism. However, if hypertension is your main problem, you may see results more quickly.

Your blood pressure will be easier to control with alcohol cessation, diet, and exercise. Plus, kidney health affects your blood pressure. Your kidneys may be damaged if you drink to the point that your liver is not functioning properly. Improving liver and kidney function can also improve your blood pressure.

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