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Liver Fast Facts: Alcohol and the Liver 

Alcohol and the Liver

What does the liver do?

The liver processes most things a person consumes, including alcohol. The liver is the only organ involved in processing alcohol, and only a certain quantity of alcohol can be detoxified over a period of time. Meanwhile, excess alcohol affects the brain, heart, muscles, and other tissues of the body.

How does alcohol affect the liver?

If too much alcohol is consumed, normal liver function may be interrupted, leading to a chemical imbalance. Liver cells may be destroyed or altered, resulting in fatty deposits (fatty liver), inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), and/or permanent scarring (cirrhosis). Mixing alcohol and medications may also damage the liver.

What are the symptoms of alcohol-related liver damage?

Symptoms of liver damage include fatigue, appetite loss, lower resistance to infection, jaundice, abdominal swelling, intestinal bleeding, brain dysfunction, and kidney failure.

Can alcohol-related liver damage be reversed or cured?

The liver has a tremendous capacity to regenerate itself. If caught early, minimal liver damage can be reversed if the person abstains from alcohol. More severe damage may cause illness and sometimes death.

How much alcohol is safe for the liver?

Up to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women is considered safe with regard to the liver.

(updated October 2005)