Alcohol addiction can happen out of the blue, even if you occasionally indulge with friends, celebrate with a few extra drinks during the holiday season or love wine tasting. You may never know when you get used to it. The scarier part is that alcohol abuse disorder (AUD) can lead to dire health issues in the long run.
According to a 2021 survey, 5.1 million Canadians over 12 engaged in heavy drinking on several occasions in the past year. That’s a huge number, and it keeps increasing every year. Unfortunately, only a few people take the condition seriously enough to seek treatment. Leaving the alcohol problem untended elevates the risk of liver disease. Your liver takes a hit, and the situation may be hard to reverse.
If you are serious about addiction recovery, you can get your liver in the healing mode. But the process is long and challenging. You must have realistic expectations about the healing process and period because a month of abstinence is not enough to reset your ailing liver. However, you shouldn’t give up hope, as research validates that taking an extended break can improve liver function gradually.
Let us explain some key facts regarding the impact of drinking and abstinence on liver health.
Understanding the Impact First
Alcohol can harm many organs, but the liver probably bears the biggest brunt of abuse. The organ produces enzymes that help metabolize toxins, such as alcohol, entering your body. While your liver is your first line of defense against alcohol, it can suffer the most due to the heavy lifting.
In the short term, your liver processes alcohol within an hour. The more you drink, the harder it has to work. When you feel drunk, it is probably because this vital organ is too overwhelmed to process the alcohol in your system. At this stage, it temporarily overflows into your bloodstream, leaving you light-headed or tipsy after multiple drinks.
The effects can be more severe when you indulge in prolonged or excessive use of alcohol. Eventually, you will notice signs your liver is struggling as it bears the load of too many toxins. How soon you see these signs depend on individual factors like genetics, but they will surely surface at some point. Severe complications can develop after five years of heavy drinking, and the damage may become serious for people drinking for 20 or more years.
Feeling sick, weight loss, appetite loss, swelling in extremities, and jaundice are some early signs of damage. In the long run, you may suffer from diseases such as:
- Fatty liver disease
- Alcohol liver disease (ALD)
- Alcoholic hepatitis
According to the Canadian Centre for Addictions, healing is possible if you commit to addiction recovery and take good care of your liver. But it requires a lot of dedication and the right approach to quitting alcohol. Moreover, you may need institutional support to make abstinence a priority. Once you are on the right track, you will witness subtle signs of healing, such as increased energy, balanced weight, improved appetite, and better immunity.
How Abstinence Can Set the Pace for Healing
Alcohol is a toxin, and your liver helps flush it out. But drinking too much for a prolonged time increases the workload of your liver and eventually overwhelms it. The silver lining is that the liver is a regenerative organ. Research shows that your liver may regenerate to its original size even after you lose 90% of it. Abstinence can reverse alcohol liver disease (ALD) completely, provided you follow it with complete commitment. For more severe conditions like cirrhosis, you need proper medical treatment.
While abstaining from alcohol, you will surely want an achievable number for the healing timeline. According to a 2021 research review, two to four weeks of abstinence for heavy alcoholics helped lower inflammation and reduce elevated liver serum levels. But there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question. The timeline may vary depending on factors such as:
- Age and weight
- Other health conditions
- Amount and frequency of consumption
Even a few weeks off drinking can help; abstaining for the long haul is always the best choice. Your provider may recommend lifelong abstinence to fully recover from the severe effects of alcohol abuse. If you suffer from life-threatening conditions like severe injury to the liver with cirrhosis, a single drink can be toxic.
Steps to Break the Alcohol Cycle
Abstinence and deaddiction can set up your liver for healing, but the first step is always the hardest. You can start small with a few simple lifestyle measures to embark on the healing journey. Here are a few actionable tips to break the alcohol cycle:
A commitment to quitting is perhaps the most important line of defense when it comes to healing an ailing liver. You may struggle to wean off if you are a heavy drinker, as severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are possible. Seek help from your healthcare provider to manage these symptoms. Moderate or occasional drinkers may also have a hard time because of social pressures. The right attitude can give you a good start with quitting.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Good nutrition can also support your liver’s journey in recovery. The Mediterranean diet can be a good option to fill the nutritional gaps and heal your liver effectively. Food such as fish, tea, and nuts support the organ’s function and help it restore itself in the long run.
Focus on Mental Self-Care
Mental self-care is an integral part of addiction recovery. It can also speed up physical healing. Adopt activities such as meditation, gardening, and journaling to invest in your mental health during your de-addiction journey. You can also seek counseling support to ease the transition.
The Bottom Line
An overworked liver needs time for healing, just like an infection or a broken bone. Reducing its workload is the first step toward setting it on a healing journey. The good thing is that healing is as easy as quitting alcohol for most drinkers (unless you have a severe condition like cirrhosis). Commit to abstinence for the best chance of recovery.