Alcoholic Liver Disease – Alcohol Dependence is Killing Us

The human liver
The human liver | Source

The liver is a really important organ in the body. It is responsible for filtering your blood, for cleansing poisons among other things, and too much alcohol is a poison. That is why we feel rough the day after a heavy drinking session. We have drank more than our liver could cope with.

Every time we take an alcoholic drink, we kill a few liver cells, and they do not regenerate.

The dead cells form scar tissue called fibrosis, but the living cells take over the job of the dead cells.

We can kill off 90% of our liver and it will still function, because that other 10% is capable of taking over the whole function. But that is the absolute minimum it can function on.

When we reach this stage, just one more drink can kill us.

And the really frightening thing is, there are no warningsigns. Unless we have been hospitalised for something else, and liver function tests have been carried out, we have no idea how healthy or otherwise our livers are.

glasses of wine
glasses of wine | Source

Alcoholic Liver Disease is on the Increase

In the Western World in general, alcoholic liver disease in on the increase, but nowhere more so than in the UK.

Liver disease in the under 30s age group has rocketed by 50% in the last 10 years between 2001 and 2011, due in a large part to the an increasing alcohol dependence among the youth.

Part of this is because of cheap supermarket booze and the culture of drinking at home which the No Smoking in pubs law has indirectly encouraged.

When people socialise in pubs, their drinking level is pegged to price and rate of alcohol consumption of those around them.

Not so at home. It is very easy to binge drink as you top up from a bottle whenever you please, pouring as much alcohol into a glass as you please, whereas in a pub you are served a stringent regulated measure, which amounts to about 5 teaspoonfuls of a hard liquor.

That, plus pricing where you pay the same for a whole litre of hard spirits as you would for 3 or 4 pub drinks has meant that home drinking is on the increase.

having a bottle of beer
having a bottle of beer

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

It was long believed that people who develop liver cirrhosis (that is the name for the disease where scar tissue is formed on the liver) are heavy drinkers who have drank copious amounts of alcohol steadily for 10 years or more.

New research is showing that cirrhosis is increasing in younger people, and in those who have not, apparently, over-stepped the mark when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Binge drinking is on the increase, with people regularly setting aside at least one night a week to get drunk, even if they abstain for the rest of the week. This form of heavy drinking is extremely damaging to the liver.

New research now puts the maximum safe alcohol consumption at 4 units a day for men, and 3 units a day for women.

Over the course of a week this falls further to 21 units for men, and 14 for women.

A unit of alcohol is equivalent to

  • half a pint ordinary strength beer or cider
  • 5 teaspoons of spirits
  • 50ml sherry or port
  • a small glass (125ml) wine

If your regularly drink more than this, you are at risk of developing liver disease. Woman are more prone to developing alcoholic cirrhosis than men, and that is why their safe limit is set lower.r.

high protein foods help protect the liver
high protein foods help protect the liver

Feed your Liver

One thing that can help prevent alcoholic liver disease is to make a habit of always eating before you start drinking.

A high protein meal is recommended to help protect the liver.

Drinking on an empty stomach is the worst thing you can do, as the liver has nothing to sustain it as it goes about its function of purifying the toxins in alcohol.

Studies have shown that eating well substantially reduces the risk of developing alcoholic cirrhosis. The timing of your meal is crucial too.

If you normally have your main meal of the day at 2pm, by 6pm your stomach is empty again, yet this is the time many young workers may meet in a pub after work for a few drinks before going home.

Many other people use alcohol as an appetiser, preferring to drink an aperitif or two before eating. This can cause fatty liver damage.

Eat first, then drink alcohol, if you must.

People who have developed an alcohol dependence often forget to eat, or grab a hastily prepared sandwich at some point.

This is simply not enough to protect your liver, which, let's face it, when it fails, there is not another organ in the body can take over it's function, and so you either die or if you are very lucky, get a liver transplant.

Two pints of beer a day can kill
Two pints of beer a day can kill | Source

Alcoholic Liver Disease Kills

I knew a man who by no stretch of the imagination could be considered an alcoholic. He was 51 years old, physically fit, (he ran a boys' football team), and every evening he went to the pub, bought a couple of pints of beer over the course of an evening, and sat in a corner doing the daily newspaper's crossword if none of his mates were in.

Then he'd go home and have something to eat with his wife who worked shifts - so from this we can assume he drank on an empty stomach, but never enough to even get drunk, except for the odd weekend binge drinking session that most of us indulge in.

One day he noticed his legs were swollen, and went along to see his doctor. This was one of the alcohol liver damage symptoms, which luckily his doctor recognised right away. He was admitted to hospital that day, but was never released.

He died from chronic liver failure less than 2 months later, despite a huge battle for his life from both himself and medics.

That is how frightening liver disease is. It creeps up on us, and kills us when we are not looking and certainly not expecting it.

Alcoholism is on the increase. We must learn to reduce our dependence and eat better, in order to reduce the rapidly climbing rate of alcoholic liver disease.

If you are under 30, I strongly recommend you watch the video below made by Channel 4 News. You may find some scenes distressing.

Binge Drinking Amount the Under 30s Causing Alcoholic Liver Disease

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Comments 21 comments

slavicat 5 years ago

I know that many don't like reading things which make them be annoyed and frightened,especially if it relates to some of their favorite pleasures in life;article is very useful to keep one's attention and awareness about limits to make in life;i myself drink sometimes a glass of wine/bad is that i miss breakfast and have my first meal at noon ,1p.m or 2p.m;Thanks for good writing

Brett.Tesol profile image

Brett.Tesol 5 years ago from Thailand

Scary and interesting topic. Most over drink at times, but unfortunately the UK has gone binge drinking crazy. This is something that needs to change culturally, for criminal and medical reasons/costs!

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

The binge drinking of the past decade is just the tip of the iceberg. For many years before that, we all got used to going out to the pub for a few, or even having a bottle at home with friends round. You don't have to drink it all at once to damage your liver. There has been a drinking culture in the UK since at least the 1960s. I myself have lost many friends through liver failure in their 40s and early 50s. I certainly drink more than the recommended limit for a man, and I am a woman! It is frightening, but we should eat as well because that might just be the thing that saves our lives.

expats profile image

expats 5 years ago from UK

Very good Hub, Izzy, and of course very topical. I know it isn't just us Brits who tend to go overboard, but it certainly is a major problem when compared to a lot of other countries. Funny how in places like Spain alcohol is so much cheaper yet the alcoholism problem doesn't seem to have affected many Spaniards in comparison to the British.

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

It hadn't before, but I do believe there is a youth drink culture here now too. One of the major differences between the UK and Spain is the Spanish constantly eat when they are drinking. (tapas) This not only slows down the rate at which alcohol is metabolised and keeps them sober for longer, it protects their livers. If Britain adopted this habit, there would be fewer problems.

Ritsos profile image

Ritsos 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

I agree ... we don't really do snacks in pubs because they want to sell us meals. Now, I like a few beers but I can't drink easily after a heavy meal ... Now if a pub sold tapas/mezze style snacks, that would be great ... mm maybe there's a market there¬

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

I heard tapas bars in the UK are exploding! I imagine that is because all those smokers who are no longer allowed to smoke are wanting something to do with their hands while they are drinking!

Ritsos profile image

Ritsos 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

Well they haven't hit here yet .. there are 2 or 3 and they have all been here a whle and used to be full of smokers but it's a fair point .. When I stopped smoking many years ago I used to eat probably 4 or 5 bags of crisps when I went to the pub which is probably evenless healthy :-)

Would be good though .. I actually know the manager of a small local chain of pubs .. maybe I'll mention it to him

Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

This is a great Hub, Izzy - even though it scared the %$&* out of me! :( - and you make quite a few valid points.

I am the perfect example of an ex pub drinker. Although I used to go to the pub several times a week, those visits have rapidly declined since the introduction of the smoking ban to the stage where I have been in a local pub once so far this year and that was for less than half an hour. (Hotel bars during multi-day fishing trips don't count...)

Instead of going to the pub for a couple of pints and then the supermarket, I now go straight to the supermarket and end up buying a bottle of wine to drink with my dinner. Not good. The answer in my case in the first instance is probably to quit smoking and save my lungs as well, I know...

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

It's a great idea, might even fill his pubs up again while saving a few lives :)

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

This is it Gordon, it's not just the young binge drinkers, and if you watch that video they are drinking frightening levels of alcohol, it's all of us - just steady alcohol drinkers. The daily recommended level of alcohol units is a joke, I'm just getting started after drinking my daily allowance in one glass! We are all at risk here, not just alcoholics. All of us that drink any alcohol at all. And yes, then there is the smoking - don't get me started LOL If one doesn't get us, the other will.

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

IzzyM, I have to say that I think that it's not true to say that liver cells do not regenerate. I'd had a science major biology or A and P course that went over how that was a false idea being spread, and that the Liver really does regenerate.

Of course I'm no Doctor. . . .but at one point it was also believed that brain cells do not regenerate. . .that is also false, they do.

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Well before I wrote this article, I saw medical sites where they say they do regenerate despite my earlier education saying they don't. But I think in actual fact they do regenerate up to a point, after which they die (the fibrosed dead cells that leave scar tissue). I'm sure you'll agree with me that dead cells can't regenerate, especially once they become a scarred and out of shape pile. Even at that point however, the existing cells can still take over their function. My idea being it is is easier to say they do not regenerate even if it isn't strictly true, because the end result is the same once cirrhosis has developed. That takes up back to the point at the top of the article that the liver can continue to function with only 10% of its cells working, providing that person no longer takes drink( or drugs for that matter).

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas


I'm a daily drinker that doesn't have any noticeable problems from it. I get stir crazy without it. I do already realize that I'm going to have to make all kinds of changes in order to age well though.

slavicat 5 years ago

I shared your Hub with my friends on Facebook/i run a health group/and twitter

Thank you

feel free to visit my profile

Ritsos profile image

Ritsos 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

One thing that may help .. a friend of mine has drunk since he was 14 I guess and pretty much daily drinks a couple of bottles of wine and maybe a beer or whisky. He went for a check up and his liver was fine ... Now I suspect that this is due to him also drinking a LOT of water and cups of tea presumably flushing the alcohol through .. just a thought

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks very much Slavicat and I will do. @Ritsos, yes of course fluid consumption will help, but the strange thing with liver disease is that many people do not ever get cirrhosis, despite being alcoholics. I think studies are ongoing to see if it is a gene or something that is responsible, but until then, we can assume that we are all at risk.

almasi profile image

almasi 5 years ago

A very useful and informative hub.

Have linked it to my hub on Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Almasi, it was already linked through 'related hubs'.

Jean Bakula profile image

Jean Bakula 5 years ago from New Jersey

Hi Izzy,

You did a valuable service in writing this hub. I grew up surrounded by alcoholic relatives. In the US, the drinking age used to be 18, and it was raised to 21 about 10 yrs. ago. Traffic accidents by drunken teens are down, but people who drink too much will do it no matter what age they are. I notice that people's tolerance level goes down as they get older, and many (including myself) don't eat as much, just not as hungry. It's so dangerous to drink on an empty stomach. My Mom died from cirrhosis, and when I saw I was drinking more than a few, I stopped altogether a few years ago. I have lots more energy, the hangovers are hell when you get older! A good pub strategy is alternating plain soda water or seltzer as we call it here, with your alcoholic drinks, to help stay hydrated.

IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Yes I know a few people who seem to be able to remember to have a non-alcoholic drink when they go out, to dilute the alcohol, but it's something I never remember to do! lol Probably better for me that I don't go out much these days! I am so sorry to hear about your mom :(

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