People living with alcohol use disorder can cause tremendous damage to their liver function. Hepatitis from alcohol use can lead to lasting effects that persist even after people stop drinking alcohol. Alcoholic hepatitis can develop into liver cirrhosis — a life-threatening condition that can only be treated via a liver transplant.
The best way to prevent dealing with the complications of alcoholic hepatitis is to stop drinking alcohol immediately. People with alcohol use disorder may need professional detox and treatment to recover safely and develop the skills needed for a lifetime in recovery.
What Is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a medical term used to describe inflammation of the liver. 1 Unlike hepatitis A, B, or C, alcoholic hepatitis isn’t caused by a virus. Instead, liver inflammation occurs because the liver has been pushed to the brink by alcohol use.
The liver’s primary function is to remove toxins from the bloodstream and break them down into harmless chemicals to be excreted in the breath or urine. The liver is incredibly efficient but can be overwhelmed by frequent alcohol use.
Hepatitis from Alcohol Use
Like most other toxic substances, alcohol is metabolized in the liver. This occurs in a three-stage process:
- Ethanol (the pure form of alcohol) enters the bloodstream via the stomach
- The liver pulls ethanol from the bloodstream and metabolizes it into acetaldehyde
- The liver breaks acetaldehyde down further into acetate, which is excreted
Ethanol is the chemical that creates the feeling of drunkenness. The liver recognizes ethanol as a toxin and works to remove it from the bloodstream.
The final process chemical, acetate, is an inert and harmless substance. The liver cannot break ethanol down into acetate directly; it requires the intermediate step of metabolizing ethanol into acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde is an incredibly harmful chemical. It is a well-known carcinogen that is extremely toxic to the liver, which plays a key role in developing hepatitis from alcohol use.2 While the liver may be able to process a small amount of alcohol with a low risk of harm, a person with alcohol use disorder constantly overloads their liver’s capacity for detoxification.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis
As a result of constant pressure on the liver from metabolizing alcohol, the liver can become inflamed, and scar tissue may begin to form. This will often result in several painful symptoms, including3:
- An enlarged and tender abdomen
- Jaundice, or the yellowing of the skin and eyes from reduced liver function
- A feeling of constant fatigue and weakness
- Low-grade fever
- Vomiting and nausea
- Loss of appetite
If you have developed these symptoms, it is vital that you stop drinking. Continuing to engage in heavy alcohol use after the development of hepatitis can lead to permanent liver damage.
Stages of Alcoholic Liver Disease
Hepatitis from alcohol use is the second stage of alcoholic liver disease.4 Engaging in binge drinking or heavy alcohol use after alcoholic hepatitis develops can be life-threatening. On the other hand, if you stop drinking alcohol in the first stage of alcoholic liver disease, you may save yourself from several of the complications of alcoholic hepatitis.
So what are the three stages of alcoholic liver disease?
- Alcoholic fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis
Fatty liver is an early warning sign that you have put your liver in danger from alcohol use. While there are generally few symptoms from this stage, it clearly indicates that you should stop drinking. Thankfully alcoholic fatty liver disease is reversible.
The last stage of alcoholic liver disease is cirrhosis. Cirrhosis results from a buildup of scar tissue from constant damage to the liver. It is typically irreversible. The only effective treatment for cirrhosis is liver transplantation.5
Complications of Alcoholic Hepatitis
When a person develops alcoholic hepatitis, they are at increased risk for several other health complications. These are usually the result of built-up scar tissue in the liver, which can interfere with blood flow to this vital organ. Just a few complications of alcoholic hepatitis include:
- Kidney failure
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
- Enlarged veins and increased risk for ruptures
- Buildup of dangerous toxins in the blood
This last complication is particularly dangerous for alcoholics. A buildup of toxins can lower tolerance, leading to prolonged bouts of drunkenness, stupor, and confusion.
Can You Recover from Hepatitis from Alcohol Use?
You can recover most of your liver function if alcoholic hepatitis is caught before it develops into cirrhosis. No medication can help people heal from alcoholic hepatitis, but if you stop drinking, your liver may be able to heal itself.
Scar tissue on the liver cannot recover, but alcoholic hepatitis does not necessarily imply that you have damaged your liver to this extent. People with severe alcoholic hepatitis may only regain partial liver functioning but can still stop the progression of the disease to cirrhosis.
How to Stop Drinking
The treatment for alcoholic hepatitis is simple, but it is by no means easy. People with alcohol use disorder often struggle to stop drinking on their own, even in the face of life-threatening consequences. Fortunately, evidence-based treatment methods can help people recover and stop drinking for good.
The best way to stop drinking is to enroll in an alcohol treatment program. These programs can provide medical detoxification, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, and intensive treatments and therapies to help you learn recovery tools. No matter how severe your alcohol disorder is, you can recover.
At Clear Life Recovery, our team has dedicated themselves to helping people overcome addiction in all forms. Reach out to our team to learn more about alcohol treatment options and how we can help you achieve lasting sobriety. From the moment you call to the day you discharge, our team will be here to help you on every step of your recovery journey.