Alcoholism is the second most common cause of liver disease in the United States. Dr. Jerman, can you tell us about alcohol-related liver disease?
Certainly, Dr. Mansfield. Breaking down alcohol is one of the liver's many functions. The process of breaking down alcohol, however, generates toxic byproducts. Over time and in large amounts, these byproducts damage liver cells, cause inflammation, and weaken the body's immune system. Inflammation and damage to the liver can eventually lead to a buildup of scar tissue, called cirrhosis.
Heavy drinking can also cause fat to build up in the liver. This condition, called steatosis, is the most common alcohol-induced liver disorder. Excessive fat in the liver makes it difficult for the liver to function properly. Steatosis can lead to inflammation and, eventually, scarring.
Most people who consume alcohol do not suffer damage to the liver, and the amount of alcohol it takes to cause damage varies from person to person. In most cases, alcohol-related liver disease is the result of several years of heavy drinking.
Research suggests that drinking two or fewer standard servings a day for women and three or fewer standard servings a day for men is not likely to injure the liver. However, alcohol consumption is related to a number of other serious health conditions, so it's a good idea to talk to a provider about safe amounts of alcohol to consume.