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How Much Alcohol Causes Liver Damage?

A young man and woman, who is drinking a smoothie, sit together looking happy and healthy.
Is it time to rethink your drink and give your liver a break?


If you like to drink—and more than half of Americans do—you obviously want to make sure that you’re not drinking so much that you’re at risk of becoming addicted to alcohol. But that’s not the only concern. Even if you’re not an alcoholic, you could be damaging your liver.

There are three alcoholic liver disease stages:

  • Fatty liver, also called steatosis, is the earliest and most common form of alcohol-related liver disease. It’s basically what happens when there is too much fat inside of liver cells, making it harder for the liver to function. Fatty liver can occur fairly quickly—even within a few weeks—in people who drink heavily.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, accompanied by destruction of liver cells. It occurs in up to 35 percent of heavy drinkers.
  • Cirrhosis, the most severe form of alcohol-related liver disease, happens when scar tissue replaces normal tissue. It occurs in about 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers after years of excessive alcohol consumption.

So how much can one safely drink?

True “low risk” drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week for women and no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men.

If you drink beyond those levels, you truly are taking your chances.

Many heavy drinkers—even alcoholics—never develop cirrhosis. But there is also evidence that some degree of extra fat can be deposited in the liver after just one session of heavy drinking.

There are a number of factors that affect your risk of liver damage, including nutrition, genetics and gender (women are more susceptible than men.)

It’s also important to keep an eye on your weight, as the combined effects of obesity and heavy drinking can significantly increase the risk of liver damage.

Alcoholic Liver Disease Symptoms

Symptoms often don’t emerge until extensive liver damage has been done. They can include:

  • Inflammation of the liver, which results in potential abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, excessive thirst, nausea, fever, fatigue and weakness
  • Confusion, agitation, poor judgment and trouble concentrating
  • Pain in the center or upper right part of your abdomen
  • As liver damage worsens, symptoms can include jaundice, build up of fluid in the body, internal bleeding and muscle wasting.

Blood tests can reveal potential liver damage, which can then be confirmed by an ultrasound or liver biopsy.

The good news is that, by stopping drinking, liver damage can often be reversed. Maintaining a healthy weight, controlling diabetes, exercising and eating well can also help reduce liver damage and keep you healthy.

A Fresh Start at The Raleigh House

If you can’t control your drinking on your own, it’s time to seek help—and get healthy. The Raleigh House is a residential treatment center located in Denver that uses every possible tool to tackle addiction, including a staff of doctors, therapists, nutritionists and even a chef who specializes in a “recovery” diet. Residents have access to a gym, yoga classes, a swimming pool and indoor rock climbing. The goal is not just to quit drinking. It’s to become physically and mentally strong, so that you’re ready to launch your new life. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about the alcohol addiction treatment program at The Raleigh House.

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