Check Your Liver if You’re a Heavy Drinker

Gillian May
Photo byPhoto by Accuray on Unsplash

My father died in 2016 from alcoholic liver disease, a condition that is entirely preventable, but highly complicated. I am also a former nurse and recovering alcoholic, and I’m committed to helping others understand alcoholism and liver issues better.

Most heavy drinkers who develop liver disease don’t know about it until it’s too late. The main reason is that alcoholism causes people to deny their addiction. Most heavy drinkers don’t tell their doctors the amount and frequency they drink, so doctors can’t provide the education and testing required to catch these issues sooner. Also, the symptoms of early liver issues are so vague that it’s hard to pinpoint where the symptoms are coming from.

My mission is to help others understand why it’s crucial to get regular medical checks, especially if you drink past the safe levels of alcohol consumption. This article will look at what amount of alcohol could potentially be dangerous and how to get your liver checked at the doctor’s office.

Concerning alcohol consumption

First — what amount and frequency of alcohol consumption can put a person at risk for alcoholic liver problems? Unfortunately, there’s no agreed-upon dose of alcohol consumption that causes liver disease. This is because liver issues happen very differently for each person, depending on genetics, health history, medications, age, lifestyle, and body weight.

According to the CDC, the safe drinking amount is no more than 1 drink per day for a woman and 2 drinks per day for a man. That’s not to say that drinking slightly more than that will cause liver issues. However, the risk increases as the amount of alcohol consumed rises.

Experts say those who engage in heavy drinking or binge drinking on a frequent basis are more likely to develop liver-related issues. According to the CDC, heavy drinking is drinking more than 15 drinks per week for a man and more than 8 drinks per week for a woman.

Other health issues

If there are other health issues or medication use, the risks of liver damage increase dramatically. For example, people with diabetes who drink heavily are more at risk of liver issues than those without diabetes and who drink heavily. Also, those who take liver-toxic medications and mix them with heavy drinking may be at higher risk of liver problems. Some examples of liver toxic drugs are: acetaminophen, pain killers, cholesterol reducers, antibiotics, and antibiotics, to name a few.

Since the liver is responsible for filtering medications and toxins and managing other body systems, it has a huge role in the trajectory of other health issues. The more there are co-morbid health issues requiring treatment, the more stress is put on the body’s internal organs, including the liver. The more stress placed on the body, the more the liver must work hard to repair and manage things. This puts further wear and tear on this critical organ. Although the liver is robust and adaptable, it can’t withstand frequent assaults over time.

How to get your liver checked

So if you are a heavy drinker, it’s vital to get your liver checked. This becomes even more important if you have other health issues and take medications. The most important thing to do is write down exactly how much your drink and how often. Take this list to the doctor and let them know you are concerned about your liver and would like to have it checked. It may be helpful to keep a diary or journal with a running tally on the number of drinks and the date and time consumed.

The first line of diagnosis is blood work, but the results are often not 100% accurate. Liver issues don’t always show up in the blood at first. Many people with severe liver disease have perfectly normal blood results right up until the liver starts to fail. However, it’s still important to know if there is any inflammation or problems with other organs.

Next, a liver scan would be beneficial — scans show whether there are any fat cells and other signs of inflammation or damage. These days, the technology has improved, and there are better scans that are more accurate.

The most important thing is ensuring you have a doctor that can understand your drinking and can help you prevent severe issues by monitoring your condition. There may be some stigma attached to this process, as many doctors are still learning about the complexities of alcohol abuse, addiction, and concurrent mental health issues. Nonetheless, their job is to provide care regardless of a patient’s situation. If you find you’re not getting the care you deserve, it may be helpful to find a different doctor.

These simple steps can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. If you are a heavy drinker, it’s essential to find a doctor that will listen and take your health seriously. Yes, the doctors will likely ask you to quit or reduce drinking as that is the only way to prevent alcoholic liver disease in the first place. Whether you choose to quit or not, knowing your liver health is a huge step in taking care of yourself. The more we know, the more power we have to make decisions for our life.

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I'm a former nurse turned freelance writer. I have extensive experience in administration, frontline care, and education in mental health, public health, and geriatrics. However, after 20 years, I needed a change and always wanted to write. I have personal and family experience in mental health and addictions, so I'm passionate about advocacy and education in those areas. I'm also a traveler, photographer, and artist. I funnel all my various expertise into my writing and hope to provide valuable content that is entertaining and educational.


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