More than 88,000 Americans die every year as a result of excessive alcohol use, according to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, chronic alcohol consumption causes 1 out of every 10 deaths of adults ages 20 to 64 in the United States.
Not all alcohol use is bad. Millions of adults can drink normally with little to no repercussions at all. They monitor their use and stay within their limits. They know when they’ve had enough and cut themselves off without the need for someone to tell them to.
But there are those who cannot stop drinking, who do not know when enough is enough. They can’t keep themselves from having another. It’s only when faced with a significant reason to stop or the influence of some type of program that they can put the bottle down. These individuals are the ones who face the possibility of developing liver disease, cancer, or other health problems.
What is Excessive Drinking?
Serious health consequences, such as liver damage or cancer, come as a result of excessive drinking. Clear distinctions between moderate and heavy alcohol use exist. You might not know the difference between normal drinking and excessive drinking, though.
Size of a Standard Drink
The CDC defines a standard drink by the amount of pure alcohol in the beverage, totaling 0.6 ounces. The following types and amounts of alcohol contain about that amount:
- 12 ounces of beer with a 5 percent alcohol content
- 8 ounces of malt liquor with a 7 percent alcohol content
- 5 ounces of wine with a 12 percent alcohol content
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor with a 40 percent alcohol content
Normal or Moderate Drinking Amounts
The CDC publishes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which sets moderate drinking levels at 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. While any alcohol consumption is hardly suggested, if you remain within these limits you have a lower chance of liver damage or other health complications.
Binge drinking is the most common type of excessive alcohol use, especially among young adults. College students are notorious for episodes of binge drinking in particular. The CDC defines binge drinking as having 4 or more drinks in the same timeframe for women and 5 or more drinks for men.
Not all drinkers confine their drinking to a single event like many binge drinkers do. Those who drink excessively yet spread it over multiple days throughout the week are called heavy drinkers. Heavy drinkers are women who have 8 or more drinks per week and men who have 15 or more drinks per week.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a more serious issue than binge or heavy drinking. While those who drink excessively put themselves at risk for problems with their liver, brain, kidneys, or other bodily functions, those with an AUD risk that and much more.
Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Your Liver
You need to remember that you do not need to have an AUD in order to drink excessively. This includes both binge drinking and heavy drinking. Many excessive drinkers do not actually have an AUD but still drink irresponsibly. Excessive alcohol use affects not only your liver but your kidneys, brain, heart and many other vital organs in your body.
Your liver exists to filter your blood and remove the toxic substances it holds. Alcoholic liver disease leads to some of the most serious health complications caused by alcohol abuse. Three types of liver conditions develop as a result of excessive drinking: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis,
and cirrhosis. Doctors sometimes view them as worsening stages that occur
Fatty liver develops over the short term as a result of excessive alcohol use. It refers to the buildup of excessive fat surrounding the liver. You can generally reverse the effects of fatty liver if you quit drinking. When caught early enough and addressed immediately, it does not often cause illness.
Alcoholic hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver that comes as a result of continuous heavy drinking. Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include fever, jaundice, and extreme stomach pains. These symptoms are often confused with other abdominal issues, especially if the drinker lies about how much they drink.
Cirrhosis is the most serious and deadly form of alcoholic liver disease. Although the liver conditions above may occur beforehand, cirrhosis also develops without any previous stages. Cirrhosis refers to the buildup of scar tissue around the liver as a result of excessive drinking. You cannot reverse any existing scarring but quitting drinking can keep new scarring from forming.
How to Avoid Harmful Liver Consequences
The best way to avoid developing alcoholic liver conditions is to stop drinking alcohol. Although you may not remove any of the existing complications it keeps you from developing new conditions. If you find you cannot quit drinking, you might need to attend treatment for alcohol abuse.