Alcohol and Liver Disease Causes

What happens when you drink alcohol?

When you drink alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach and intestines. All blood from the stomach and intestines first goes through the liver before circulating around the whole body. So, the highest concentration of alcohol is in the blood flowing through the liver.

Liver cells contain chemicals (enzymes) which process (metabolise) alcohol. The enzymes break down alcohol into other chemicals which in turn are then broken down into water and carbon dioxide. These are then passed out in the urine and from the lungs. The liver cells can process only a certain amount of alcohol per hour. So, if you drink alcohol faster than your liver can deal with it, the level of alcohol in your bloodstream rises.

What are the problems of drinking too much alcohol?

Your liver and body can usually cope with drinking a small amount of alcohol. Indeed, drinking a small amount of alcohol (1-2 units per day) may help to prevent heart disease and stroke.

However, drinking over the recommended limits can be harmful. If you drink heavily you have an increased risk of developing:

  • Serious liver problems (alcoholic liver disease).
  • Some stomach disorders.
  • Severe inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
  • Sexual difficulties such as impotence.
  • Muscle and heart muscle disease.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Damage to nervous tissue.
  • Accidents - drinking alcohol is associated with a much increased risk of accidents. In particular, injury and death from fire and car crashes. About 1 in 7 road deaths are caused by drinking alcohol.
  • Some cancers (mouth, gullet, liver, colon and breast).
  • Obesity (alcohol has many calories).
  • Damage to an unborn baby in pregnant women.
  • Alcohol dependence (addiction).

In the UK, deaths due to alcohol-related diseases (particularly liver disease) have risen considerably over a period of 20 years.

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Author:
Dr Roger Henderson
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Laurence Knott
Document ID:
4395 (v47)
Last Checked:
11 May 2017
Next Review:
10 May 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.