We are often told that too much alcohol is bad for us, and you may have wondered when sipping a glass of wine or beer how alcohol affects your liver.
Your liver can cope with drinking a small amount of alcohol. However the liver can only handle a certain amount of alcohol at any given time, so if you drink more than the liver can deal with by drinking too quickly, or drinking too much over a short period of time, the liver cells (hepatocytes) struggle to process it. When alcohol reaches the liver, it produces a toxic enzyme called acetaldehyde which can damage liver cells and cause permanent scarring, in addition to other organs such as the stomach lining causing gastritis or peptic ulcer disease.
If you continue to drink excessively, either through binge drinking or by having multiple drinks on a daily basis, the consequences include destruction of liver cells, a build-up of fat deposits in your liver (fatty liver), or liver inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), permanent scarring (cirrhosis) or even liver cancer.
Guidelines for low risk weekly alcohol consumption suggest up to 11 standard drinks in a week for women, and up to 17 standard drinks in a week for men. Drinking no more than six standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion. Drinking more than six standard drinks on any one occasion is regarded as binge drinking. Remember it is the amount of alcohol – not the type – is what matters.
AskAboutAlcohol.ie is a HSE website that provides dedicated information about alcohol risk and offers support and guidance to anyone who wants to cut back on their drinking. Keep in mind that alcohol can have varying effects on you depending on; age, gender, mental health, drug use and medical conditions, so balance a glass of your preferred alcoholic beverage with some thought about the associated risks.