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Repairing Your Liver After Heavy Drinking

Written By
Chris Elkins, M.A.
This page features
9 Cited Research Articles

The liver is harmed each time you drink excessively. Binge drinking episodes and years of heavy drinking can damage the organ and cause fatal health problems. Depending on the extent of the damage, some liver problems can be permanent. Other issues can be healed if you take steps to protect your liver.

You should talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of alcoholic liver damage. Common symptoms of liver problems include yellow skin, spider veins, muscle loss or fluid buildup in the abdomen. Your physician may recommend at-home remedies or prescribe medications or procedures if you have serious liver problems.

Steps to Take to Repair Your Liver

If you aren’t experiencing noticeable symptoms but you’re concerned about your liver health after binge drinking or heavy drinking, you can take several steps to protect your liver.

Don’t Drink Alcohol

Abstaining from alcohol is the most beneficial thing that you can do to protect your liver from future damage. No other treatment can overcome the damage caused by alcohol. You have to be sober and give your liver time to heal.

Many people who have alcoholic liver damage also have alcohol addiction. They’re unable to quit drinking on their own. If you’ve tried to stop drinking and you’ve been unsuccessful, talk to your doctor about treatments for alcoholism, or call a rehab facility to help you recover.

Avoid Other Harmful Substances

For most people, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is a safe over-the-counter medication that can treat minor pain, fever or headache. But in high doses, it can cause liver damage. Tylenol can also complicate existing liver problems. Other toxins such as cleaning solutions, paint fumes and paint thinners can harm the organ.

Smoking tobacco also causes indirect damage to the liver, according to a 2006 article in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Some studies have also found that people who drink alcohol and smoke tobacco have an increased risk of liver cancer, but more research is needed.

Eat Healthy

A poor diet can lead to malnutrition, which causes a variety of health problems that complicate liver disease. The liver is responsible for several functions that help the body use nutrients from the food and beverages that you consume. Liver damage can disrupt the body’s ability to convert those nutrients into vital substances.

A healthy diet that is low in salt provides the body with the energy and nutrients that it needs to survive. Salty foods, processed meat and sugary foods or beverages should be avoided, according to the University of Michigan Health System.

Learn more about the effects of substance abuse on nutrition

Exercise Moderately

Moderate exercise contributes to a long list of health benefits, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also reduces the risk of liver problems, such as Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Exercising can help you maintain a healthy weight, which helps reduce the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. However, individuals with severe liver problems may be unable to exercise because of decreased muscle strength. If you feel too tired or weak to exercise, visit your doctor for health advice.

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What Types of Alcoholic Liver Damage Are Reversible?

Problematic alcohol use usually causes three types of liver damage. One type is called fatty liver disease. The liver can recover from fatty liver disease on its own if people stop drinking.

If they don’t stop drinking, they can develop alcoholic hepatitis. This potentially fatal condition usually requires medical treatment in combination with self-help remedies, such as eating a diet that nourishes the liver.

Prognosis of Alcoholic Liver Diseases
Type of disease Prognosis
Fatty liver Good
Alcoholic hepatitis Uncertain
Cirrhosis Poor

Source: The Cleveland Clinic Foundation’s Center for Continuing Education

Liver cirrhosis is the most serious liver disease caused by alcohol. Early-stage liver cirrhosis may be reversible. But a person with advanced liver cirrhosis usually requires a liver transplant to survive.

Learn more about these diseases and disorders caused by alcohol

How Quickly Can the Liver Heal?

The liver is the only internal organ that can completely regenerate itself. After a partial hepatectomy, a procedure to remove parts of the liver, the organ can provide support to the body while it regenerates itself.

The liver can regenerate relatively fast too.

If a Tylenol overdose destroys 50 to 60 percent of liver cells during a three- to four-day period, the liver can completely repair itself within 30 days if no other complications occur, according to the University of Iowa Health Care system.

When alcohol harms the liver, the organ tries to heal itself. In most cases, it can recover from a night of binge drinking or sporadic alcohol consumption. However, chronic alcohol use disrupts the healing process. The disruption causes swelling (hepatitis) and the development of scar tissue (cirrhosis).

The liver can’t remove scar tissue and regenerate healthy liver cells. That’s why a liver transplant is the best treatment for severe liver cirrhosis.

You can protect yourself from liver problems by drinking responsibly, eating a healthy diet, exercising and avoiding harmful substances. If you have a history of heavy drinking, binge drinking, alcoholism or liver problems, abstaining from alcohol is the most beneficial thing you can do to avoid future liver issues.

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