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Alcohol and Liver Disease

Alcohol is a major cause of liver disease in Australia. 1 2 Liver disease is rising among young adults. 1

How does alcohol harm my liver?

Alcohol is broken down in the digestive system, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Alcohol starts being digested in the mouth, and must pass through the remainder of the digestive system. The alcohol in the blood is slowly broken down in the liver. Blood alcohol concentration is very high in the liver, and the liver produces enzymes to digest the alcohol. A toxic substance called acetaldehyde is produced by the liver to digest the alcohol. Acetaldehyde destroys liver cells. 23

Why is the liver affected by alcohol?

Alcohol metabolism (digestion) mainly takes place in the liver. This digestion occurs at a cellular level. Alcohol can be metabolised in three different ways, and each result in acetaldehyde, and corresponding isoenzymes. Acetaldehyde is toxic, and is involved in alcoholic liver disease and alcohol related cancers. 2

What can alcohol cause in my liver?

Alcohol consumption is associated with increasing the risk of liver disease. It can lead to these four diseases of the liver:

Fatty liver

When large amounts of alcohol are consumed there can be a build-up of fat in the liver. This fatty build-up occurs after a one-off (single) drinking session or regular drinking at harmful levels. 1

Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcohol hepatitis occurs from regular and ongoing alcohol consumption. It is caused by inflammatory changes within the liver, and can result in abdominal pain, fever, deep jaundice and coma. If regular alcohol consumption continues it can lead to alcohol cirrhosis. 1

Alcoholic cirrhosis

Alcoholic cirrhosis affects the structure and function of the liver. 1 Cirrhosis is a complication caused by years of consistent alcohol use. Alcohol is the most common cause of cirrhosis of the liver, and cirrhosis is the most common cause of illness and death from long term harmful alcohol consumption. 24 Alcoholic hepatitis can lead to alcohol cirrhosis. 1

Cancer

Acetaldehyde is a toxic substance produced by the liver when it breaks down alcohol. Acetaldehyde is a carcinogen and can cause cancer. 2

Click here for more information on alcohol and cancer.

The facts and figures

In 2011, 532 Western Australian's were admitted to hospital for alcohol-related liver cirrhosis.4

In 2011, the total number of liver cirrhosis (alcohol-related) deaths was 59. This was close to 5 people dying every month in WA. 5

Evidence proves that alcohol can cause liver disease.

In order to remain at low risk of alcohol-caused liver disease, health experts recommend having no more than two standard drinks on any day.

 

 
References

1 Duggan, A.E., & Duggan, J.M. (2011). Alcoholic liver disease Assessment and management. Australian Family Physican, 40 (8), 590 - 593

2 Heather, N., Peters, T.J., & Stockwell, T. (Editors). (2001). International Handbook of Alcohol Dependence and Problems. Wiley: West Sussex

3 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2001). Australian Alcohol Guidelines. Health risks and benefits

4 Health status report on alcoholic liver cirrhosis (alcohol related) hospitalisations (alcohol-caused) for the State. Epidemiology Branch (PHI) in collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI). Generated using data from the WA Hospital Morbidity Data Collection. Proportion of drug and alcohol related deaths identified by aetiological fractions. Accessed Wednesday, 30 April 2014 by Russell Bridle (Drug and Alcohol Office).

5 Health status report on alcoholic liver cirrhosis (alcohol related) deaths (alcohol-caused) for the State. Epidemiology Branch (PHI) in collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI). Generated using data from the WA Death Registrations which includes data from the WA Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths and Australian Bureau of Statistics. Proportion of drug and alcohol related deaths identified by aetiological fractions. Accessed Wednesday, 30 April 2014 by Russell Bridle (Drug and Alcohol Office).