Alcohol abuse leads to a condition known as alcoholic liver disease. The liver performs the important function of detoxification and that includes processing alcohol. Excessive consumption of alcohol is the leading cause of liver damage in the western world.
Factors that increase the risk for this condition include the average amount of alcohol consumed in a sitting over a period of time, drinking when not eating, gender, pre-existing conditions, etc. You don't have to drink yourself silly every time to be a candidate for this condition. And not every alcoholic gets alcoholic liver disease. Diet and nutrition play an important role; if you have a healthy diet you can probably keep the condition at bay. Diagnosis of alcoholic liver disease is done through blood tests, scans, and if required liver biopsy.
Symptoms of the condition include dryness in the mouth, tiredness, loss of appetite, weight loss, jaundice, and fluid accumulation in the legs. The skin may turn dark or pale; motions may be tarry due to blood in them; bleeding gums; and giddiness are other symptoms.
Alcoholic liver disease progresses in stages. The first stage is characterized by the condition known as fatty liver, followed by alcoholic hepatitis, and then cirrhosis. One in four alcoholics suffering from a fatty liver may get cirrhosis.
Fatty liver - In this condition, there is an accumulation of fat in the cells of the liver. Fortunately, this condition is not irreversible. FLD can happen from a number of causes but the most common cause is alcohol abuse. The condition can often pass unnoticed or is diagnosed when liver diagnosis is carried out for some other purpose. Early detection can enable reversing of the steatosis. If left till later, there are chances that cirrhosis may lead to heptocellular carcinoma.
Alcoholic hepatitis - Four out of ten heavy drinkers get alcoholic hepatitis. The condition is characterized by the inflammation of the liver. The condition may or may not lead to cirrhosis but with heavy drinkers the chances of liver cirrhosis following this condition are quite high. Symptoms include liver enzyme elevation, fluid in the abdomen cavity, and jaundice.
Cirrhosis - This is an irreversible condition that occurs from sustained heavy drinking for more than ten years or so. The condition is graded A, B, C based on severity. The prognosis for "C" is poor. Treatment for cirrhosis consists of trying to prevent further damage to the liver and if required, liver transplant. Hepatitis vaccines are given and certain medications such as NSAIDs are discouraged. Alcohol, of course, is a strict no-no.