A taste for moderation

A taste for moderation

The liver is located in the upper right part of the abdomen. It performs certain essential and vital functions that are necessary for normal life, like secretion of bile to assist digestion, synthesis of essential proteins, control of clotting factors, conversion of food to energy and storage of energy.

When one consumes alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach and intestines. Then it goes through the liver. Liver cells contain enzymes (chemicals) which break down alcohol into other chemicals. The liver cells can process only a certain amount of alcohol per hour. So, if one consumes alcohol faster than the liver can deal with it, the level of alcohol in the bloodstream increases.

Drinking over the recommended limits can cause:
*Liver failure
*Stomach disorders
*Pancreatitis (severe inflammation of the pancreas)
*Depression, anxiety and psychosis
*High blood pressure
*Damage to the nervous system, the heart and the muscles
*Accidents — About 1 in 7 road deaths are caused by drunken driving
*Cancers (mouth, oesophagus, liver, colon and breast)
Excess alcohol consumption can lead to three types of liver conditions  — fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis.

Fatty liver
This condition is caused by the accumulation of fat in the liver. In itself, it usually does not cause  symptoms. Fatty liver will usually reverse if the person stops drinking heavily. However, in some people the fatty liver progresses and develops into hepatitis and cirrhosis.

Alcoholic hepatitis
Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver.
In the early stages, there are no symptoms . But in advanced stages, symptoms include nausea, jaundice and excruciating abdominal pain. Severe alcoholic hepatitis can quickly lead to liver failure. This can cause severe jaundice, blood clotting problems, confusion, coma and bleeding in the intestines. It is often fatal.

Alcoholic cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is a condition wherein normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue (fibrosis). The scarring tends to happen gradually. The scar tissue affects the normal structure and regrowth of liver cells. The liver slowly loses its ability to function well. About 1 in 10 heavy drinkers will eventually develop cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis tends to occur after 10 or more years of heavy drinking. If one has a pre-existing liver problem, even small amounts of alcohol can be dangerous. Cirrhosis can lead to end-stage liver disease (liver failure). In the early stages, often there are no symptoms. But, as more liver cells die, and scar tissue builds up, symptoms appear. The scarring and damage caused by cirrhosis cannot usually be reversed. However, recent research has led to a greater understanding of cirrhosis. Research suggests that it may be possible to develop medicines in the future which can reverse the scarring process of cirrhosis.

After assessing the symptoms, the following tests may be done: blood tests, ultrasound scan and liver biopsy.
nFor fatty liver or mild alcoholic hepatitis, one could recover by giving up drink.
nFor severe hepatitis, one may require hospitalisation and sometimes intensive care treatment. 

nFor cirrhosis, abstinence can prevent further liver damage.  If diagnosed and treated when it is not too advanced,  cirrhosis is unlikely to progress.  In severe cases — when the liver can barely function — liver transplant may be the only option.
Those not affected by liver disease need to follow recommended safe drinking limits. Remember, binge drinking can be harmful. Counselling and support from a doctor or counsellor is often all that is needed. Initially, a detox treatment may be advised. Referral for specialist help may be necessary in some cases.

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