Early Signs of Liver Damage from Alcohol Abuse

Published by Raffa Bari | Last updated: 19th December 2023


Clinically Reviewed by Dr. Olalekan Otulana (Advanced Practitioner)

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All information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.
Last Reviewed: 18th December 2023

Prolonged alcohol use can be very damaging. It can open the path up for mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. It can cause long term health issues that can affect you for the rest of your life.

The damaging effects of alcohol addiction can easily be missed. This is due to a combination of the UK’s drinking culture and a lack of information on what to be on the lookout for.

One of the worst effects of alcohol addiction and heavy drinking is the damage that can be done to your Liver. A vital organ that’s primary function is to filter out toxins from your blood supply.

An alcohol damaged liver can massively impact your quality of life. In addition, it can cause you issues with your digestion and being more prone to infections thanks to a compromised immune system.

Given the times we live in, a damaged immune system is more of a danger than ever before. But a liver is very resilient and is capable of regenerating itself so long as the damage is not too great.

Unfortunately, with alcohol abuse, your Liver will lose its ability to self-repair. As a result, you will have to rely on often invasive treatment options to keep you safe and healthy.

What To Look Out For

Suppose you are able to catch liver damage from alcohol misuse early enough. In that case, there is still a chance that it will be able to repair itself without any need for a transplant.

Problems with skin

To begin with, the most common warning sign of liver damage is jaundice. This is when the skin and eyes can become yellow or develop a patchy yellow hue. This happens because your Liver is unable to filter properly, and you are experiencing a high level of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment.

Jaundice will go away when the Liver is repaired as it is a symptom of the issue rather than a disease in itself. But it is very hard to miss this sign of liver damage as it is so apparant.

So if you suspect you have developed it due to yellowing of the skin, the whites of the eyes or mucus membrane, please console your doctor as soon as possible, especially if you have a history of alcohol abuse.

You may also experience itchy skin. However, this warning sign can easily be dismissed as allergies or eczema. However, if you are a frequent heavy drinker, it is important not to ignore any symptoms that may end up saving your life.

If you find itchy skin, it may be ignored, but if you have it alone with any of these other symptoms, you should take it seriously and seek medical help. For example, if you are also finding your skin easily bruising, a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and an unusual amount of chronic fatigue, then together, these symptoms that could easily be dismissed become much more telling as early signs of liver damage.

Swelling in the legs and ankles is another early sign of liver damage that many people experience. It can sometimes be painful and, in conjunction with itchy skin, cause the skin to be sensitive over the affected area.

If you rest with your feet up and the swelling remains or if the swelling is larger than normal from being on your feet all day, then it should be taken as a sign to speak with your doctor about the possibility that it is linked to liver damage.

Another place for swelling to look out for is your abdomen. This, along with pain, can be a sign that your Liver is shutting down. Swelling and abdominal pain should be taken seriously under any circumstance as it could be a sign of appendicitis as well as liver damage.

Go to your Doctor or Hospital

Depending on the amount of pain you are in you may need to decide a visit to the doctors or hospital may be necessary. The NHS has a reference for you to use, so you know when it is time to go to the hospital or when to visit the Doctor.

If you are ever unsure but feel as though you need help, remember you can call 111 for a none emergency.

As your Liver helps in filtering and waste production in your body, a good early sign of liver damage is changes in your bowel movements. This typically can be seen in the form of pale stool. It can also cause your urine to become darker.

If you are worried about either of these, it is best to consult with a doctor for a second opinion.

The effects of long term alcohol abuse can easily result in liver damage. However, if you catch it early enough, thanks to these early warning signs, then you still have a chance of having it be easily treated.


Treatment for Liver damage

Should you experience liver damage as a result of prolonged alcohol abuse, there are treatments available to you that will help you.

First of all, you will be recommended to stop or reduce the amount of alcohol you regularly consume. This will be to give your Liver a break from filtering out the toxins found in alcohol and to see if it is able to repair the damage without the extra work.

Suppose you are able to stop drinking early enough. In that case, the Liver can begin healing itself anywhere from a few days to a few weeks following sobriety.

It is best if you stop drinking completely to give your Liver a chance to recover something, which is best done with the assistance of alcohol detox, as 2 weeks of sobriety is recommended at least to begin the repairing process.

It can take around a month for the Liver to repair itself this way.

If a transplant is needed, you will be talked through the process and how you will be able to prepare for that. However, any treatment plan will involve sobriety and a positive change being made in your life in order to prevent further damage from being done to your Liver and your body.

If you can sport the early signs of liver damage, you can save your Liver. But the best way to prevent liver damage is by giving up alcohol or reducing the amount you are drinking.


Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, DTs is very serious. If you think that you may be suffering from DTs then you should seek medical assistance immediately as DTs can be fatal if left untreated.

It is hard to say exactly how long you would need to stay at a recovery centre without knowing more about the severity of your addiction. However, when it comes to standard inpatient rehabilitation here at Cassiobury Court, we typically recommend that you are with us for around twenty eight days. This can seem like a long time, but the benefits of a longer, more intensive course of addiction treatment are paramount.

A lot of addictions are characterised as being behavioural illnesses. While we can help people to break free from the cycle of addiction, the threat of relapsing will sadly always be there. However, through our relapse prevention planning and complimentary aftercare programme you will be able to keep the prospect of relapse at bay. Relapsing is a threat that you learn to manage and avoid, meaning a lot of successful recovering addicts never relapse.

Raffa Bari

Raffa Bari - Author Last updated: 19th December 2023

CQC Registered Manager

Raffa manages the day to day caring services here at Cassiobury Court. Dedicated to the treatment and well being of our visitors she is an outstanding mental health coach registered with BAAT (British Association of Art Therapists). Raffa has outstanding experience in managing rehabs across the country and is vastly experienced at helping people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.

Dr. Olalekan Otulana (Advanced Practitioner)

Dr. Olalekan Otulana (Advanced Practitioner) - Medical Reviewer - Last Reviewed: 18th December 2023

Dr. Olalekan Otulana MBChB, DRCOG, MRCGP, DFSRH, FRSPH, MBA (Cantab)

 Dr Otulana is a highly experienced GP and Addiction Physician. He has a specialist interest in Substance Misuse Management and he has a wide range of experience in the assessment, management (including detoxification) and residential rehabilitation of clients with various drug and substance addiction problems.  His main aim is to comprehensively assess patients with addiction problems and determine their treatment needs for medical detoxification treatments and psychological interventions. He is also experienced in managing patients who require dual drug and alcohol detoxification treatments.

A strong healthcare services professional with a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) degree from Cambridge University Judge Business School.