How does alcohol affect your liver?

Updated February 21, 2017

After you swallow alcohol it lands in your stomach and begins to be absorbed into your body. The alcohol moves into the blood of the stomach and intestines directly through the stomach wall. Before this alcohol-laden blood enters your bloodstream it makes its way to the liver. Although the liver makes more of the dehydrogenase enzyme, the enzyme that helps metabolise alcohol, than any other organ in the body it is still greatly affected by alcohol. Alcohol is a demanding force in the liver requiring the liver to put aside its normal activities in order to metabolise the alcohol. In fact, metabolising large amounts of alcohol can permanently change the liver's cell structure, which in turn impairs its ability to metabolise fats. Fat stays in the liver instead of moving out into the body and being used. Using the liver for fat storage creates a fatty liver.

Importance Of The Liver

If the liver is given more alcohol than it can metabolise in an hour (about 14.8ml) the alcohol spills out into other parts of the body. The alcohol continues to circulate in the body until the liver is able to metabolise it. This can be a very slow process depending on how much alcohol has been consumed. It is also very taxing on the liver and if continued over a span of time can permanently damage the liver. The liver is a major component of metabolism in the body but it also handles glycogen storage, the synthesis of plasma proteins, the production of hormones, and detoxification of the body. If you put anything in your mouth and swallow it, then the liver will interact with it at some point. Without a functioning liver a body cannot survive.

Alcohol And Liver Function

There are three main diseases associated with excess alcohol consumption --- fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. Over-taxing the liver with alcohol begins to damage and eventually kill the liver cells. Although a body can continue to function with fewer liver cells the continued consumption can increase this loss over time. Pair this with fibrosis (scar tissue) in the liver, which begins to affect cell growth, and you have cirrhosis of the liver. This combination is seen in heavy drinkers of ten or more years. Fatty liver (Steatosis) can be reversed if alcohol consumption is stopped and is usually seen in heavy drinkers. Sometimes people with fatty livers develop inflammation, scarring of the liver tissue and, in severe cases, hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis can present itself in varying degrees. Severe cases can cause liver failure. Chronic drinkers who binge drink are highly susceptible to alcoholic hepatitis.

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About the Author

Alex Burke holds a degree in environmental design and a Master of Arts in information management. She's worked as a licensed interior designer, artist, database administrator and nightclub manager. A perpetual student, Burke writes Web content on a variety of topics, including art, interior design, database design, culture, health and business.