Liver Pain After Drinking Alcohol – Liver pain or discomfort can be encountered in different ways. Most commonly, it feels like a dull, throbbing sensation in the upper right abdomen. However, sometimes, it presents as a painful stabbing sensation. Swelling may also occur, and the individual may feel the pain progress up the back or into the right shoulder blade.
The liver’s principal function is to filter blood originating from the digestive tract before allowing it to transfer to other areas of the body. It also detoxifies chemicals and breaks down drugs, and as it does so, it releases bile that goes back into the intestines. This organ also produces proteins that are essential for blood clotting and other vital functions.
The liver is uncommonly a source of pain. Still, if a person experiences discomfort related to this organ, it’s an indication that something is probably occurring in the body that warrants closer investigation. If the liver is injured in some way, it may not be noticed until the damage has become quite severe.
How Does Alcohol Use Affect the Liver?
The liver is responsible for processing all of the alcohol that enters the body but can only handle a limited amount at any given time. When a person drinks alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine.
This blood enters the liver to be cleaned of foreign or potentially toxic substances, including alcohol, before being passed on to the other areas of the body. Once in the liver, alcohol produces an enzyme called acetaldehyde that can injure liver cells and eventually result in permanent scarring.
How Long Does It Take for Alcohol-Related Liver Damage to Occur?
Liver damage develops rather slowly, in stages. The first is called steatosis, better known as fatty liver, which is a condition that occurs among many people who drink excessively. Steatosis is the earliest stage of liver disease and is hallmarked by fat buildup in the liver cells. Fortunately, this damage is reversible if alcohol use is ended.
The next stage is known as alcoholic hepatitis, which develops if heavy drinking continues after the steatosis has developed. Mild alcoholic hepatitis causes inflammation in the liver and results in increasing damage that can persist for many years before advancing into the next stage, cirrhosis.
Of note, however, acute alcoholic hepatitis can lead to liver failure and life-threatening complications in just days. Alcoholic hepatitis is also reversible if drinking is discontinued.
The last stage is liver cirrhosis, a life-threatening condition in which healthy liver cells and tissue are replaced by scar tissue, undermining the liver’s capacity to function normally. While there is no set timeline for liver damage to develop, it is estimated that 10-20% of excessive drinkers will have incurred cirrhosis after a decade or more of heavy alcohol consumption, and this damage is irreversible.
Between 8-10% of Americans report drinking excessively, and 10-15% will develop an alcohol-related liver disease that is the result of liver damage caused by years of regular, heavy drinking, and can further progress into liver cirrhosis.
Alcohol-Related Liver Disease: Symptoms
The primary symptom of steatosis is abdominal pains in the upper-right quadrant near the liver. Once the liver damage has advanced further into acute hepatitis, common symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and jaundice. Following acute hepatitis, cirrhosis scars the liver and impedes its ability to function. It can then cause symptoms such as liver cancer, bleeding of the esophagus, and kidney failure.
Alcohol-Related Liver Pain
If you experience liver pain after drinking, make an appointment with your doctor to get a diagnosis. He or she will probably conduct a liver biopsy, as well as a blood test, to assess overall liver function and any damage that may have occurred.
In the event that your physician has asked that you abstain from alcohol use and you have been unable to quit on your own, it is an excellent idea to seek professional help. Chronic, heavy drinkers have often become chemically dependent on alcohol, and therefore, quitting may be challenging without various means of treatment and support.
Importantly, if the liver scarring has become severe enough to impair essential liver function, you will likely require a liver transplant, regardless of whether you quit drinking or not.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Alcoholism is a life-long disease that has no known cure, but fortunately, it can be effectively treated using a comprehensive treatment approach and evidence-based therapies. More severe forms of alcohol addiction should be addressed in a long-term residential rehab where clients can be supervised around-the-clock. At the same time, they receive support and undergo intensive treatment.
Just Believe Recovery employs highly-skilled, compassionate addiction professionals who are committed to helping our clients recover from addiction and maintain long-lasting sobriety. We seek to provide all the tools that clients need to reclaim their lives, free from alcohol use indefinitely.
If you have an alcohol use disorder, please contact us as soon as possible. You CAN restore your sanity—find out how we can help!