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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at
(847) 498-5611.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.

What Does Chronic Consumption of Alcohol Do to One's Liver?

Dear Dr. Steve:

My dad has always been a heavy drinker but because he was able to function, I never thought of him as an alcoholic. A typical week’s worth of drinking for him would be a six pack of beer on week nights and a case or more of beer on the weekends. After years of ignoring my mother’s plea to go see a doctor he finally went last week. The results of one of his tests indicated that he has developed cirrhosis of the liver. Believe me, we’re all in shock. Since hearing the news, my dad has cut back, but hasn't quit drinking. He has 2 or 3 beers everyday. Will cutting back stop his liver disease?

Chronic consumption of large quantities of alcohol can cause damage to your body’s organs. Your liver is particularly vulnerable to the damage that chronic consumption of large quantities of alcohol can cause. A disease of the liver that can be caused by chronic consumption of large quantities of alcohol is cirrhosis, also known as alcohol liver disease. In the first step of cirrhosis, the liver cells become injured and accumulate tiny droplets of fat ("fatty infiltration" or "fatty degeneration"). As more and more cells suffer fatty infiltration, the liver becomes enlarged. If the alcohol addiction cycle continues, scar formation occurs with constriction of the scar producing more scar formation, until the process becomes irreversible.

Normal liver function is essential to life. Your liver performs more than 300 functions. To lose normal functioning of your liver could be and oftentimes is fatal. In fact it is estimated that between 10,000 and 24,00 deaths occur each year because of alcohol liver disease.

Alcohol cirrhosis usually develops after 10 years of chronic consumption of large quantities of alcohol. Genetic factors may shorten that time-span for some people. The amount of alcohol consumed that leads to cirrhosis varies. In women, as few as 2-3 drinks per day has been linked to alcohol liver disease, and, in men, as little as 3-4 drinks has been linked to alcohol liver disease.

The reason that cirrhosis can be so deadly is that once a liver is damaged the liver can’t remove toxins from your blood system. This causes those toxins to build-up in your blood and eventually in your brain. Once the toxins build-up in your brain, they begin to compromise your mental functioning. Once this happens, you may begin to experience personality changes, slip into a coma, or even die.

Loss of liver function affects the body in many ways. From the National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse here are common problems, or complications, caused by cirrhosis.

Edema and Ascites. When the liver loses its ability to make the protein albumin, water accumulates in the leg (edema) and abdomen (ascites).

Bruising and Bleeding. When the liver slows or stops production of the proteins needed for blood clotting, a person will bruise or bleed easily.

Jaundice. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes that occurs when the diseased liver does not absorb enough bilirubin.

Itching. Bile products deposited in the skin may cause intense itching.

Gallstones. If cirrhosis prevents bile from reaching the gallbladder, a person may develop gallstones.

Toxins in the Blood or Brain. A damaged liver cannot remove toxins from the blood, causing them to accumulate in the blood and eventually the brain. There, toxins can dull mental functioning and cause personality changes, coma, and even death. Signs of the buildup of toxins in the brain include neglect of personal appearance, unresponsiveness, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, or changes in sleep habits.

Sensitivity to Medication. Cirrhosis slows the liver's ability to filter medications from the blood. Because the liver does not remove drugs from the blood at the usual rate, they act longer than expected and build up in the body. This causes a person to be more sensitive to medications and their side effects.

Portal Hypertension. Normally, blood from the intestines and spleen is carried to the liver through the portal vein. But cirrhosis slows the normal flow of blood through the portal vein, which increases the pressure inside it. This condition is called portal hypertension.

Varices. When blood flow through the portal vein slows, blood from the intestines and spleen backs up into blood vessels in the stomach and esophagus. These blood vessels may become enlarged because they are not meant to carry this much blood. The enlarged blood vessels, called varices, have thin walls and carry high pressure, and thus are more likely to burst. If they do burst, the result is a serious bleeding problem in the upper stomach or esophagus that requires immediate medical attention.

Problems in Other Organs. Cirrhosis can cause immune system dysfunction, leading to infection. Ascites (fluid) in the abdomen may become infected with bacteria normally present in the intestines, and cirrhosis can also lead to kidney dysfunction and failure.

The most well known symptom of cirrhosis is jaundice. Jaundice manifests itself as a yellowing of the skin and eyes. The presence of jaundice indicates that your liver has been severely damaged.

Liver damage from cirrhosis is irreversible. Treatment can only stop or delay the progression of cirrhosis. When the cause of cirrhosis is chronic consumption of large quantities of alcohol, the treatment is abstinence from alcohol and maintaining a healthy diet. Although the complications caused by cirrhosis can be treated, once damage to the liver from scarring becomes so extensive that the liver stops functioning, the only treatment is a liver transplant. Although survival rates for transplants have increased in recent years, 10 to 20 per cent do not survive the transplant surgery.

Your father needs to quick drinking altogether. It’s likely that he’s spent a lifetime minimizing his drinking and the impact that his drinking has had on his body. You should consult a qualified professional to assist you in helping you break through the denial system of your father. It is critical that he stop drinking and develop a lifestyle that does not exacerbate his liver condition.



Recover from chemical dependency and its impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series—From Insanity to Serenity.

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