Chronic liver damage from heavy drinking can cause a condition called cirrhosis of the liver. With cirrhosis, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue; the scar tissue impairs the liver's function of removing toxins from the body. Cirrhosis can lead to many health complications including bleeding disorders, liver cancer, kidney failure, reduced mental functioning and death. The best way to prevent cirrhosis is not to drink heavily.
The number of alcoholic drinks it takes to cause liver damage resulting in cirrhosis varies greatly from person to person, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Over several years, consuming as few as two to three drinks each day may cause liver damage and cirrhosis in women, reports the NDDIC; for men, having three to four drinks per day can lead to cirrhosis. Examples of one drink include 1.5 oz. of 80-proof liquor, 12 oz.
Your gender and the number of alcoholic drinks you have each day are not the only factors determining whether you will develop cirrhosis. The length of time for which you've been drinking greatly influences whether you'll develop cirrhosis. The longer you've been abusing alcohol, the more likely you are to cause damage to your liver. Some other important factors that affect whether your alcohol use will lead to cirrhosis include medication use and health status.
ALCOHOLIC LIVER DISEASE
Cirrhosis is the final stage of alcoholic liver disease -- or damage to the liver from chronic alcohol abuse. Once you develop cirrhosis, your liver will not be able to repair itself even if you stop drinking. Fortunately, if you stop drinking in earlier stages of alcoholic liver disease, it is possible for your liver to heal. The earliest stage of ALD is a reversible condition called fatty liver, or steatosis.
Although chronic alcohol abuse is the major cause of cirrhosis, it is possible to develop cirrhosis even if you don't drink alcohol. According to the NDDIC, obesity -- both with and without alcohol use -- is a growing cause of cirrhosis in the United States. Hepatitis C, an infection commonly caused by sharing needles used to inject drugs intravenously, can also lead to cirrhosis in the absence of alcohol use, as can certain inherited diseases, such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, hemochromatosis and cystic fibrosis.