How Long Do You Have to Drink Before Liver Damage?

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Key Takeaways

  • Liver damage from alcohol can start after a few months of overconsumption.
  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease can develop within months to a couple of years.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis can occur within three months to 36 years of heavy drinking.
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis typically takes at least ten years of excessive drinking to develop.

How Long Do You Have to Drink Before Liver Damage?

There’s no strict timeline for how fast liver damage can occur due to excessive drinking.

Although, most people start developing symptoms within a few months of overconsumption.

More serious damage, like cirrhosis of the liver, takes several years to develop.

When you drink, alcohol flows down your digestive tract, gets absorbed into your bloodstream, and your liver ends up processing it and turning its toxic byproducts into harmless waste.

The breakdown of alcohol can damage the liver when done repeatedly and excessively.

This damage is reversible if the body is allowed to recover from alcohol consumption for a while. If not, liver damage may become permanent, leading to liver failure.

Here’s a breakdown of how this occurs.

How Long Does It Take to Damage Your Liver With Alcohol?

Even short periods of binge drinking—whether frequent or infrequent—can cause reversible damage to your liver. But it usually takes several years for permanent damage to occur.

Alcoholic fatty liver disease can develop within a few months to a couple of years of drinking, especially in people who have more than four to five drinks per day.

Some people can develop fatty deposits in their liver just after a week of particularly heavy drinking.

Alcoholic hepatitis (AH), which is a more acute form of alcohol liver disease, can occur anywhere within three months to 36 years of heavy drinking.

A person who drinks at least ten drinks per day (80 g) for five years is highly likely to develop AH.

Alcoholic cirrhosis is the most severe form of liver disease and takes at least ten years to develop on average.

Studies have shown that about 14% of people who drink more than 160 g (20 drinks) of alcohol per day will develop cirrhosis within eight years.

Stages of Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease

There are three stages of alcoholic liver disease you could develop if you drink too much alcohol for a prolonged period:

1. Fatty Liver

Alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when fat starts to build up on your liver due to reduced breakdown.

It is common in people who drink several drinks per day and usually has no symptoms—but some patients experience fatigue and abdominal discomfort.

This condition can be reversed if you stop drinking alcohol for at least a few months.

2. Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis happens when the liver gets inflamed due to excessive alcohol consumption.

This is a more acute form of liver damage compared to fatty liver. It can be mild or severe, develop suddenly, and can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Patients may experience:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain in the right upper quadrant

This condition may be reversible if you completely stop drinking alcohol. But many patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis go on to develop cirrhosis.

3. Cirrhosis

Liver cirrhosis occurs when excessive alcohol consumption causes the formation of scar tissue in the liver. It can’t be reversed.

This is why treatment usually focuses on managing symptoms instead of curing the condition. The only known cure is a liver transplant.

Alcoholic cirrhosis can also lead to brain damage due to increased toxin levels in the blood, kidney failure, hypertension of the liver, liver cancer, bleeding in the upper digestive tract, and fluid buildup in the abdomen, called ascites.

Signs of Alcohol-Related Liver Damage

Most of the time, there are few signs of early-stage alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). Here are some that patients experience:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • General discomfort
  • Abdominal ache

As liver disease advances, patients may experience the following symptoms:

  • Itchy skin
  • Hair loss
  • Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
  • Shivering attacks
  • Leg, ankle, and foot swelling
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Curved fingertips and nails
  • Significant weight loss
  • Muscle wasting
  • Weakness
  • Black, tarry poo
  • Blood in vomitus
  • Confusion and memory problems
  • Insomnia
  • Tendency to bruise more easily
  • Bleeding gums
  • Frequent nosebleeds

If you experience any advanced symptoms of ARLD, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.  

Reverse Alcohol-Related Liver Damage With Curednation

The liver is resilient—it can withstand years of alcohol use before developing damage. But there’s a threshold after which liver damage becomes irreversible and patients develop cirrhosis.

This is why the best way to reverse alcohol-related liver damage or any of the conditions caused by alcohol is to reduce your alcohol intake and quit drinking early on.

Book an appointment today with Curednation because we understand that alcohol can be a difficult substance to quit.

That’s why we offer affordable treatment options like peer support and alcohol therapy to help you make changes and start your recovery journey.

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