If you are struggling with alcoholism, you probably already know some of the negative effects that excessive use of alcohol can have on your life. It can negatively impact your relationships, employment, living situation, self esteem, financial status, and so much more. Further, alcohol can wreak havoc on your physical health. Drinking to excess dehydrates you, and can lead to hangovers, vomiting, and blackouts. However, when most people think of the physical health effects of alcohol, they think of those occurring in the short term, or immediately during/after drinking. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to significant liver damage, including cirrhosis.
What is cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis of the liver is the end result of long-term alcohol abuse. Soft, healthy liver tissue is replaced with hard scar tissue. As the scar tissue spreads and takes over the liver, normal liver functioning slows and can cease entirely, resulting in liver failure. The liver is critical to healthy functioning, as it processes food and drink into nutrients the body can use, and removes toxins and other harmful substances from the blood. Chronic alcoholism is the leading cause of cirrhosis in the United States, and the time course of the disease is different for each person. Cirrhosis can be sneaky, as early on in the disease it can have no symptoms. However, long-term symptoms can include loss of appetite, tiredness, nausea, weight loss, abdominal pain, spider-like blood vessels, severe itching, complications, jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin/whites of the eyes, gallstones, bruising and bleeding easily, fluid build up and painful swelling of the legs and abdomen, and hepatic encephalopathy (a buildup of toxins in the brain that causes mental and physical complications). Under certain circumstances, cirrhosis can be managed with a healthy diet, vitamins, and not drinking. However, once the damage is done it generally cannot be reversed. This is why it is crucial to face and address any alcohol abuse issues you may have. While the short term consequences may seem manageable to you, and may not be enough to get you to stop drinking, the long-term health effects should be convincing. Cirrhosis and eventual liver failure are extremely unpleasant, and you should do whatever you can to prevent them. If you suspect you may have a problem with alcohol, or if people have suggested you get help, it might be time to contact professionals that can help you determine if your alcohol use is abnormal.