Even moderate drinking proves to have damaging effects on the brain, heart, and liver. Can sober months lead to long-term health benefits? If so, how long to abstain from alcohol to repair liver?
One of the biggest problems with alcohol is its social prevalence. We are immersed in a casual drinking culture, whether we’re having a quiet dinner with family or binge drinking through the weekend with friends. And while most of us are conditioned to accept alcohol as a favorite pastime, there are still numerous health concerns that can arise due to alcohol indulgence, even when consumed in small amounts. More recently, health experts find a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and high blood pressure, strokes, liver disease, and even some forms of cancer. Still, the ability to confidently say no to alcoholic drinks proves to be incredibly challenging. However, there is merit to the notion that abstaining from alcohol can help your body recover and rebuild, particularly the liver.
It’s no surprise that avoiding alcohol can be difficult. If you drink occasionally, you’ve probably considered the benefits of cutting back but may not have taken action because it feels like a monumental feat. Organizations have created entire months around this very issue—Dry January and Sober October—to help others find relief in sobriety. Others challenge themselves to quit for specific causes, charity events, or just embrace healthier habits and self-care. The good news is your liver can begin to regenerate when alcohol is no longer an everyday factor.
We’re taking a closer look at the detrimental impact alcohol has on the liver and how long to abstain from alcohol to repair the liver.
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Alcohol Consumption Trends
For many people, a cocktail or a beer can be a familiar and comforting part of their social lives in the evening. However, alcohol-related illnesses kill more than 88,000 Americans each year, according to the NIAAA. That’s more than all illicit drug overdose deaths combined, and the numbers keep climbing.
At the start of 2020, a new coronavirus caused a global crisis, leaving millions in a state of isolation. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic drove a surge in alcohol sales through the most grueling of months. According to Nielsen’s market data, total alcohol sales outside bars and restaurants surged roughly 25% during the pandemic. Sales of spirits rose even higher with more than a 27% increase since 2019. The negative impact on physical and mental health is profound, highlighting the risk of choosing alcohol as a coping strategy for stress and depression, among other mental health issues. But what sorts of health impactions come with too much drinking aside from the dreaded hangover?
Alcohol’s Impact on the Liver
The liver is a vital organ responsible for breaking down and filtering out harmful substances in the blood. It also manufactures proteins, enzymes, and hormones that the body uses to ward off infections and illnesses. Further, it converts necessary vitamins, nutrients, and medicines into substances that our body can use. The liver, effectively, services our bodies to detoxify our blood and store glycogen for energy. As one might imagine, it’s an essential factor in keeping us healthy and strong. Unfortunately, alcohol can greatly impact the duties our liver is instructed to carry out, leading to severe liver complications.
“One of the most damaging consequences of prolonged alcohol abuse is the damage it can cause your liver. Over 157,000 people in the U.S. have needed a liver transplant in the past 20 years, making it the second most common type of transplant surgery.”
Alcohol poisoning kills about six people every day. Cirrhosis-related deaths in the U.S. have increased 65% from 1999 to 2016, while liver cancer deaths have doubled in the same time frame. Individuals ages 25 to 34 experience an average of 10% more deaths from cirrhosis each year, and binge drinking culture may be to blame.
Short-Term Liver Concerns
The liver can process over 90% of consumed alcohol. However, it is limited in the amount it can process at one time. When an individual has too much to drink, the alcohol left unprocessed by the liver circulates through the bloodstream. The feeling of intoxication is a result of the excess liquor leftover being carried throughout the body.
Health experts agree that a “safe amount” of alcohol may vary from person to person. Depending on their body weight, size, and gender, alcohol may impact everyone differently. Women have been shown to absorb more alcohol than males, so they are more prone to liver damage sooner. Typically, consuming two to three alcoholic drinks daily can harm one’s liver. Binge drinking, on the other hand, encompasses four or five drinks in a row and can also result in liver damage.
Long-Term Liver Concerns
Chronic or heavy drinkers face a greater chance of contracting liver diseases. As high as 20% of individuals battling with alcohol use disorder (AUD) develop fatty liver disease. Alcoholic hepatitis, the liver’s degeneration due to inflammation, can morph into cirrhosis and may even be fatal. Common symptoms of liver disease include:
- Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Dark urine
- Consistent nausea and vomiting
- Itchy skin
- Discolored stool
- A tendency to bruise easily
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Pale, blood, or tar-colored stool
Diseases caused by alcohol are entirely avoidable. Similarly, if alcohol misuse is detected or recognized early enough, an individual may reverse long-term damage to the liver. Curious to know how long to abstain from alcohol to repair liver?
Reversing Liver Damage Caused By Alcohol
Stopping drinking is not easy. An estimated 70% of people with alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) have alcohol dependency problems. That said, individuals with cirrhosis or alcoholic hepatitis will eventually suffer liver failure unless they abstain from drinking.
“Successful treatment for alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) often depends on whether someone is willing to stop drinking alcohol and make changes to their lifestyle.” — National Health Service.
Alcohol is a toxin, and the liver flushes out toxins in order to protect the body from damage. Over time, this process becomes incredibly taxing for the liver, leading to scarring. The liver, amazingly, has the benefit of being the body’s only regenerative organ. If you lost 75% of your liver, it would still be able to regenerate to its previous size. In its early stages, alcohol liver disease (ALD) can be reversed completely by improving liver health by abstaining from drinking.
How Long to Abstain From Alcohol to Repair Liver?
Healing to your liver can begin as early as a few days to weeks after you stop drinking. However, this is highly dependent on history with alcohol. Factors to consider when trying to identify how long it takes to regenerate your liver to healthy functionality properly include:
- Amount of alcohol consumed weekly
- Diagnosis of ARLD and severity
- Lifestyle and health choices outside of drinking
- Genetics and predisposition related to Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and addiction
Complications of liver disease occur when regeneration is either incomplete or prevented by scar tissue’s progressive development. Unfortunately, once scar tissue develops, it can take longer or be next to impossible to reverse that scarring process. Cirrhosis, for example, indicates a late-stage liver disease that’s often difficult to combat.
Individuals who occasionally binge drink on weekends can usually avoid toxic liver diseases when abstaining from alcohol for two weeks to a full month. Most expert guidelines suggest avoiding drinking alcohol for 30 days to help your liver restore to its normal function. After, it’s imperative to follow moderate drinking guidelines or, even more helpful, to continue abstaining from alcohol use.Severe drinking may require three months to a year to fully regenerate the liver to its original capacity and functionality.
How Can Alcohol Addiction Treatment Help?
Now that we know the liver can do its work in healing, in most non-severe cases, it’s important to understand the measures you should take to make this happen.
Alcohol will not be simple to eliminate, considering that it’s embedded in the marrow of an everyday lifestyle. Even if consumed in small amounts, alcohol is both dangerous and extremely addictive. In severe cases of alcohol consumption, professional intervention may be required.
AspenRidge Recovery provides clients with a comprehensive treatment program that addresses alcohol dependency and helps individuals find the strength to say no despite the life hurdles we often face. Our licensed therapists provide supportive services that seek to identify reasons for alcohol abuse related to mental health care. Our team of experts can also help you build skills and coping mechanisms that promote healthier lifestyles and self-care.
What We Offer
AspenRidge’s trained, board-certified therapists, medical staff, and counselors offer counseling and rehab programs for those addicted to alcohol. Our Colorado alcohol addiction treatment programs take on a dual diagnosis approach. We guide clients using evidence- and holistic-based treatment modalities to address alcoholism and the underlying issues that exacerbate it.
Various options include:
- Day Partial Hospitalization (PHP)
- Day Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
- AspenRidge REACH Online IOP
- IOP for Professionals and Working Adults
- Outpatient Program
- Alumni & Aftercare Program
Online Alcohol Therapy Program
Online alcohol addiction counseling is now a Colorado statewide program that is an excellent option for individuals that can help more Coloradans access safe and successful treatment.
AspenRidge’s REACH Colorado online alcohol addiction program has received great results and high customer satisfaction from both board-certified counselors and clients. Individual and small-group virtual therapy has been as effective in treating alcohol use disorder and the underlying mental health issues that may impact long-term recovery.