Daily Drinkers at Risk for Serious Liver Disease

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If you are a daily drinker, you can reduce your risk of developing liver disease significantly if you start planning several alcohol-free days every week.

People who drink alcohol daily, compared to weekly binge drinkers, are at risk of developing more serious forms of liver disease, including cirrhosis or progressive fibrosis, according to a study done in the United Kingdom.

Daily Drinking a Risk Factor

If you started drinking at an early age—around age 15 or earlier—and developed a habit of daily drinking, research shows this to be the biggest risk factor in developing life-threatening alcohol-related liver disease.

Weekly binge drinkers can develop liver disease also, but daily or near-daily heavy drinking has been shown to cause an increasing number of deaths in the U.K. due to liver disease.

Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

Liver disease from excessive alcohol consumption is a worldwide cause of death and disease, with 3.3 million people dying of alcohol-related causes each year, according to recent World Health Organization figures. Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is a spectrum of injury, ranging from simple steatosis, acute alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis as indistinct and overlapping disease processes.

Researchers in the UK in 2009, investigating whether alcohol-related liver deaths in the U.K. were connected to a corresponding increase in episodic binge drinking in the country, were surprised to find that most of the study participants with severe liver disease were daily drinkers, not weekly binge drinkers.

The researchers studied 234 people who had some form of liver disease. Their findings included:

  • 106 had an alcohol-related liver disease (ALD)
  • 80 had cirrhosis or progressive fibrosis
  • 71% of those with ALD were daily drinkers
  • Those with ALD started drinking at the average age of 15
  • ALD patients had significantly more drinking days after age 20

Less Drinking, Less Risk

Compared with patients who had cirrhosis or fibrosis, those with other forms of liver disease drank sparingly, with only 10 of those in the study being moderate drinkers on four or more days a week. The lighter drinkers had less serious forms of liver disease.

The liver performs dozens of critical functions. When the liver becomes diseased or damaged, it can affect your health in many ways and eventually lead to death.

Safer to Drink With Meals

Restricting drinking to mealtime was also found to be less risky. For men and women over age 50 who regularly drank alcohol both with and without food, the cumulative risk of developing both cirrhosis and non-cirrhotic liver damage was significantly higher than individuals who drank only at mealtimes.

Daily Drinking More Risky Than Occasional Binge Drinking

This U.K. study suggests that binge drinking alcohol may be less harmful to the liver than daily, long-term drinking; however, although binge drinking may be safer than constant drinking, minimal alcohol is likely the safest route to health.

This belies the experience and statements of the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call binge drinking the most common, costly, and deadly drinking pattern in the country. According to research cited by the CDC, one in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge. This results in 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually, or 467 binge drinks per binge drinker. Men drink four out of five of those, and are twice as likely to binge drink as women. Ages of binge drinkers basically run the gamut.

Other studies have linked daily alcohol consumption to the development of alcohol-related liver disease. Data from the Dionysos Study in the late 1990s indicated that the risk threshold for developing cirrhosis and non-cirrhosis liver disease is 30 grams (a little more than 1 ounce) of alcohol per day. The risk increases with a larger daily intake, the study found.

It's the Pattern of Drinking That Is Risky

Summarizing research from 2010, one study concluded that more than forty diseases on the ICD-10 coding scheme can be fully attributable to alcohol, with volume of alcohol consumed being the predictor: the more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk of disease or death. In cases of injury, excluding suicide, blood alcohol concentration was the most important dimension of alcohol use. 

The consensus seems to be, if you drink alcohol daily, you could be putting yourself at risk for developing alcohol-related liver disease, regardless of the amount of alcohol you consume. You may want to consider skipping a few days each week.

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6 Sources
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