The Dangers of Occasional Drinking with Cirrhosis
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Learn How Any Amount of Drinking Can Hurt the Liver
Cirrhosis is a disease of the liver. It is often caused by chronic alcohol abuse. As the liver attempts to repair itself, after alcohol abuse, scar tissue forms. Over time, this scarring within the liver can lead to decreased liver function.
Once the liver has been damaged by cirrhosis, this damage cannot be undone. Any use of alcohol will only damage the liver further.
By the time someone with a drinking problem develops a diseased liver it may be hard to get sober. Alcohol use disorder is a disease of the brain. It renders a person captive to a cycle of disordered drinking. Brain pathways are altered, making it very hard to change the habit. To break free from the disease a treatment program will be needed.
One of the dangers is that the disease will trick the mind. Someone who has worked hard to get sober may have their thoughts shift. They begin to believe that it’s safe to have a drink now and then. The brain may tempt the person, sending the message that it is okay to drink again. This is the disease talking.
The liver is a large organ that humans cannot live without. For this reason, when the liver becomes diseased, it is a health condition that must be addressed. Great care must be taken to do no further damage to the liver. Drinking with a damaged liver will only make the problem worse.
About 10%-20% of chronic heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis. After this disease is detected the person must avoid all toxins, such as alcohol. This is because the healthy liver tissue has been replaced by scarred tissue. When this occurs the liver is damaged and can’t detoxify the body.
Early on, there are no clear symptoms of the damaged liver. Many people with alcoholic liver damage first become aware of it through basic blood tests. Their lab results show liver enzymes out of normal range. As the liver hardens, more symptoms will begin to emerge. Symptoms include:
- Swelling in legs, ankles, or feet.
- Itchy skin.
- Loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Bleeding or bruising easily.
- Ascites, or fluid in the abdomen.
- Disruption in the menstrual cycle for women.
- Loss of sex drive for men.
- Red palms of the hand.
- Mental confusion.
- Slurred speech.
- Yellowed whites of the eyes.
- Yellow skin tone.
- Spider web-like blood vessels in the skin.
- Whitened fingernails.
- Brownish urine.
- Bone disease.
- Enlarged spleen.
- Severe muscle cramping.
Alcohol abuse is the second most common cause of liver cirrhosis in the U.S. About 20%-25% of cirrhosis is due to heavy drinking. Also, women are at higher risk of this health problem. Cirrhosis can lead also to liver cancer.
Why You Should Remain Sober with Cirrhosis
What happens if you keep drinking with cirrhosis? When someone gets cirrhosis the focus becomes how to preserve liver function. While you can’t reverse the damage caused by cirrhosis, you can slow or stop it from getting worse. For people with advanced cirrhosis, a liver transplant may be their only option.
To improve the outlook the only option is to stop drinking. That is the most important step to take when the goal is to avoid further damage to the liver. This is because not only with drinking with cirrhosis damage the liver, but an alcoholic can rarely stop after one drink. For many, denial is a problem to be reckoned with. Their misguided thinking will only lead to an increase in liver damage, and even death.
What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcoholism is a widespread problem with 88,000 deaths in the U.S. caused by alcohol abuse. The CDC has set guidelines to help people know how much is too much alcohol:
- Excess drinking is 8 or more drinks in a week for women. For more men, it is 15 or more drinks in a week.
- Binge drinking is 4 or more drinks in a single session for women. For men, it is 5 or more drinks in a single session.
The CDC defines a “drink” as:
- One 12-ounce beer.
- 8 ounces of malt liquor.
- 5 ounces of wine.
- 1½ ounces of liquor.
Drinking in excess of these guidelines may result in an alcohol use disorder or AUD.
An AUD is based on criteria outlined in the DSM-5 posed as a series of questions. The questions are, “Have you”…
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after effects?
- Experienced craving—a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Give up or cut back on the things that were important to you or gave you pleasure to drink.
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt?
- Kept drinking even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious?
Or adding to another health problem? Or after having a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of drinking were wearing off, you had alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This might include trouble sleeping, shaking hands, feeling irritable, anxiety, depressed, feeling restless, nausea, or sweating. Or sensed things that were not there?
The number of questions that answered “yes” will determine how bad the AUD is. The levels include mild, moderate, or severe.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
When you or a loved one has been diagnosed with alcoholic liver cirrhosis, the only way to stop the damage is by getting sober. Getting professional help to achieve this goal is imperative, as the alcoholic is usually unable to stop drinking on his or her own volition. A full-spectrum alcohol treatment program will provide several services. For instance, these include detox, psychotherapy, Twelve Step groups, education, and aftercare services.
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