Alcohol-related liver disease: Symptoms, treatment and tips to stop drinking

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New Delhi: Long-term use of alcohol can cause damage to nearly every organ and system in the body. For instance, excessive drinking causes alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD), which is a major public health concern, but preventable condition. This condition does not usually cause symptoms until the liver has been severely damaged.

The symptoms of ARLD depend on the stage of the disease and can include – pain in the abdomen, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, feeling unwell, weight loss, jaundice, etc. Learn how excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver disease and other health problems, and what you can do about it.

Health effects of alcohol on your body

Liver

Alcohol causes serious damage to the liver, ranging from fatty liver to swelling in liver (alcoholic hepatitis) which progresses finally to fibrosis and cirrhosis. Fatty liver occurs after acute consumption which is completely reversible with quitting alcohol permanently. Alcoholic hepatitis is an acute form of alcohol-induced liver injury with consumptions of large quantity of alcohol over a prolonged period of more than 5 to 10 years. It progresses to cirrhosis if not abstaining from alcohol, said Dr Mihir Vora, Associate Consultant – Hepatology and Liver Transplant Physician – Global Hospital, Parel. The word cirrhosis comes from Greek language, which means hard like a rock.

Brain

The effects of binge drinking on the body and the mind (brain) can be severe and long-lasting. According to Dr Santosh Bangar, Consultant Psychiatrist, Global Hospitals, Mumbai, alcohol consumption affects mental health in a variety of ways. There is a close relationship between boredom and drinking alcohol.

“Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to behavioural problems, personality changes, poor sleep, sexual problems, depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis and alcohol dementia. Sudden stoppage or withdrawal of alcohol can cause withdrawal syndrome, and Wernicke’s and Korsakoff’s psychosis. People with some mental illnesses also consume excessive alcohol, setting a vicious cycle,” Dr Bangar added.

Why does one drink?

A person might resort to drinking alcohol due to a number of reasons, such as using it as a ‘coping mechanism’ to deal with stress, just for fun, to get a buzz, to be socially more acceptable (social lubricant). Alcohol-related disorders can be hereditary.

Treatment and management for alcohol-related problems

Dr Bangar emphasises a team approach consisting of a psychiatrist, psychologist and liver specialist. A thorough assessment by a psychiatrist includes discussion in detail of alcohol consumption and its effect on various aspects of life. A brain scan may be required to ascertain damage to the brain. Here are some tips to help manage alcoholic-related problems:

  • Be aware of your drinking patterns and units consumed. Take responsibility for your drinking behaviours, and drink responsibly.
  • Eating prior to having a drink can reduce the amount of alcohol consumed. Also, eating with alcohol can minimise the damage to the brain.
  • Using healthy ways of managing stress can prevent resorting to consuming alcohol.
  • Dilute your drink and drink it slowly over a period of time.
  • Do not drink and drive

A person with an alcohol problem must be motivated to address the drinking issue. The good news is, there are medications and talking therapies available to treat alcohol dependence. Liver transplant should be considered for people who do not respond to best aggressive medical care or non-responders to steroids. Post-liver transplant, patients are meticulously followed-up to ensure abstinence.

Taking steps that can help stop drinking and healthy lifestyle measures of a balanced diet (rich in thiamine), good night’s sleep and managing stress with meditation, yoga and exercise can be beneficial.

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