women at increased risk of alcohol-related liver disease, health risks of alcohol abuse and addiction

In 2022, 29.9 million individuals ages 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), putting them at a high risk for alcohol-induced health issues, including liver disease. Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition caused by excessive alcohol intake.

Understanding Alcohol-Related Liver Disease (ARLD)

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to health issues, such as liver disease, heart disease, mental health disorders, stroke, stomach bleeding, and different types of cancer. The liver is the primary organ that breaks down alcohol in the body, primarily through the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). Alcohol dehydrogenase transforms ethanol into acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), then acetate (CH3COO-), broken down into carbon dioxide and water.

Heavy alcohol abuse takes a toll on the liver, slowing down the chemical process of alcohol metabolism in the body. This process puts people at an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD) and alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD).

The Different Types of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

Alcohol-related liver disease encompasses a range of liver conditions, such as fatty liver (steatosis), alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. The stages of alcohol-associated liver disease include:

  • Alcoholic fatty liver or steatosis
  • Alcohol-associated hepatitis
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis

The first stage of ARLD, alcoholic steatosis or fatty liver disease, is characterized by the accumulation of fat in the liver parenchyma. Alcohol-induced fatty liver typically has no symptoms and is reversible with alcohol abstinence. Alcoholic hepatitis, the second stage, is severe inflammation of liver cells from heavy alcohol consumption.

heavy alcohol abuse, risk factor for alcohol-related liver disease and alcohol use disorders

Symptoms of alcohol-associated hepatitis may include yellowing of the skin (jaundice), fever, and liver pain. In some cases, specific measures can help in the treatment of acute alcoholic hepatitis. In severe cases of alcoholic hepatitis, it can be life-threatening and lead to liver failure.

Alcohol-related cirrhosis, the final stage of alcoholic liver disease, is permanent scarring of the liver from alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis is characterized by irreversible liver damage, causing the liver to stop working properly or altogether. Individuals with alcoholic cirrhosis are at a higher risk of liver cancer and liver failure.

The Risk Factors for Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease

The highest risk factor for alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is the quantity and duration of alcohol abuse. Chronic alcohol abuse, such as binge drinking or long-term alcohol consumption, significantly increases the risk of developing alcoholic liver disease. While several factors can influence this risk, long-term consumption of more than 30 to 50 grams of alcohol, typically 2-3 drinks a day, can lead to ARLD. At the same time, 80 grams of pure alcohol or more than five drinks a day is almost conclusive in leading to liver disease.

Gender

Even with lower levels of alcohol intake, women are more susceptible to alcoholic liver disease than men are. Women consuming over 14 drinks per week and men who have more than 21 drinks per week are at risk of developing alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD). The role of gender in risks for alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is due to differences in hormonal factors and alcohol metabolism.

man struggling with alcohol use disorder and alcoholic liver disease, alcohol-related liver disease from heavy alcohol abuse

Genetics

Certain genetic variations can influence alcohol dependence and how the body metabolizes alcohol. An inherited predisposition to alcohol dependence plays a role in the development of alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). Studies have shown evidence of genetic involvement in the progression of alcoholic steatosis to liver cirrhosis.

Obesity

Individuals who are overweight, have a high-fat diet or struggle with obesity are at a higher risk of alcohol-associated liver disease. Obesity can exacerbate alcohol’s effects on the liver, such as alcoholic fatty liver, accelerating the progression of alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.

Preexisting Liver Conditions

People with coexisting liver conditions, such as viral hepatitis B or C, are more susceptible to liver disease from alcohol. In 2016, alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) replaced hepatitis C virus as the leading cause of liver transplantation due to liver disease. This study shows that alcoholism is a more significant risk factor for liver disease than viral hepatitis infection.

Health Complications of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

The impact of alcoholism on the liver is not limited to alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD), including alcoholic steatosis, hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Chronic alcohol abuse, also known as an alcohol use disorder (AUD), can be life-threatening, precipitating severe psychological and physiological conditions. In 2022, 46% of liver disease deaths of individuals ages 12 and older involved alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption or binge drinking can result in heart damage, pancreatitis, and several types of cancer.

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) accelerates the progression of liver failure, portal hypertension, liver cancer, nutritional deficiencies, and mental health disorders.

Liver Failure

Advanced alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD), which is alcoholic cirrhosis, can lead to liver failure. Liver failure from alcohol abuse can be life-threatening as the liver is no longer able to function. Signs and symptoms of liver failure can include confusion, abdominal pain, cognitive impairment, and severe jaundice.

Portal Hypertension

High blood pressure in the portal vein, also known as portal hypertension, is a severe implication of liver disease and cirrhosis. Alcoholic cirrhosis increases blood pressure in the portal tracts, leading to portal hypertension and other potential complications such as gastrointestinal bleeding, ascites, and hypersplenism.

Liver Cancer

Chronic liver damage from alcoholic liver diseases increases the risk of developing liver cancer. Individuals who abuse alcohol and have cirrhosis are ten times more likely to develop liver cancer compared to heavy drinkers without cirrhosis. Hepatocellular carcinoma is more common in individuals with preexisting hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) who engage in heavy alcohol consumption.

woman with alcohol-related liver disease from alcohol addiction, health risks of ARLD, health complications of alcohol-related liver disease

Nutritional Deficiencies

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is often associated with malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals can further exacerbate liver complications. Alongside alcohol abstinence and medical assistance, nutritional support for alcohol-related liver disease is critical for improving alcoholic fatty liver and hepatitis.

Mental Health Disorders

Liver disease from chronic alcohol abuse is often associated with mental health issues such as anxiety disorders and depression. The combination of the physiological effects of alcoholic liver disease and poor mental health can exacerbate one’s condition and symptoms. Treatment for alcohol-related liver disease requires a multifaceted, holistic approach to alcohol addiction treatment.

Addiction treatment programs for alcohol use disorders (AUDs) integrate psychological services, nutritional support, and medical treatments for holistic recovery.

For alcohol addiction treatment in West Palm Beach, FL, contact Rock Recovery today.

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