When you first quit drinking alcohol, you likely wonder how long it will take to reverse the damage to your body.
Specifically, how long will it take for the liver to heal?
Alcohol is incredibly taxing on the liver. Fortunately, it is one of the most resilient organs in the body.
The earlier you intervene, the better your chances for a full recovery. Let’s look at the timeline and signs of alcohol-induced liver disease you should never ignore.
How long after quitting drinking does your liver heal?
The liver is truly unique, as it has the capacity to regenerate itself, which means it can potentially heal itself after you stop drinking alcohol. The process of regeneration, where the liver creates new cells to replace old ones damaged or dead, is known as hepatocyte proliferation.
The liver’s main function is to metabolize (or break down) everything we put into our mouths and swallow by breaking down toxins and filtering harmful chemicals from the blood.
When a person drinks large amounts of alcohol, this process is disrupted as the liver can’t break down alcohol fast enough to protect the rest of the body from its toxic effects.
Once you stop drinking, the liver begins to heal itself. Is this true for everyone?
We’ll dive into the factors determining whether you’ve done irreversible damage to your liver due to your drinking. Additionally, we’ll look at how long it takes for all reversible damage to occur.
Liver Repair Timeframe
The general consensus is that your liver will begin to repair itself as soon as you stop drinking alcohol. Just because the process begins quickly doesn’t mean it’s a fast process.
The duration of the healing process will vary depending on each individual and how long they drank, how much they drank, and other factors like the presence of liver damage before quitting drinking.
Let’s examine a few timelines and the factors that influence them:
- For people who occasionally binge drink on the weekends, abstaining from alcohol for 2-4 weeks can usually help them avoid toxic liver disease.
- In the case of fatty liver disease, you’ll need about 4-6 weeks of sobriety to reverse the damage.
- If you have alcoholic hepatitis, the ability of your liver to fully recover will depend on how far your the disease has progressed and whether you maintain long-term sobriety.
- Cirrhosis, unfortunately, is irreversible. At that point, you’ll need to quit drinking and seek medical care to manage your condition long-term.
Factors that Impact Liver Recovery:
- Amount of alcohol consumed weekly
- Diagnosis of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease and its severity
- Lifestyle and health choices outside of drinking (like diet and exercise)
- Genetics and your predisposition to alcohol use disorder (AUD)
- Whether you quit cold turkey versus tapering off
How to heal your liver naturally
There are several lifestyle changes you can make to help your liver heal. Of course, none of these things work if you continue to drink, nor can they override a bad drinking habit. When you do quit, however, these things can help.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your liver as it helps flush out toxins and harmful chemicals from the body. This includes not only the alcohol that is currently in your system but also the alcohol that is stored in your fat cells.
- Exercise regularly to speed up metabolism and assist with flushing out harmful toxins.
- Eat healthy foods high in antioxidants to help protect your liver, such as dark berries (like blueberries), nuts, green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, citrus fruits (such as oranges and grapefruits), and stay away from processed foods and refined sugars. Following a fruit and vegetable-rich diet like The Mediterranean Diet is a great way to promote healing in the body.
- Avoid too many over-the-counter medications used for headaches, body aches, and fevers. These medications are safe when used sparingly but can cause liver damage if used in excess.
How long does it take liver enzymes to return to normal after you quit drinking?
According to a 2021 study, it takes 2-4 weeks for your liver enzymes to return to normal after you quit drinking alcohol. However, many drinkers actually notice improvements within three weeks.
The faster your body processes toxins without the aid of alcohol, the more quickly your liver returns to normal function. If you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time, you can expect more than 30 days for your liver enzymes to return to normal.
A few things can inhibit the recovery of the liver after you stop drinking alcohol, including:
- Continuing to drink occasionally while trying to quit (don’t do that)
- Eating unhealthy, fatty food
- Being overweight
It’s important to manage lifestyle and additional risk factors throughout the quitting process to speed up healing.
Signs Your Liver Is Healing From Alcohol
You’ll notice immediate physical symptoms as your liver starts healing from alcohol abuse. Additionally, many of the liver’s functionality will start returning to normal.
Unfortunately, the healing process is not always comfortable. Much like how a wound will hurt and itch as it starts to get better, your body may cycle through unpleasant side effects as it repairs from alcohol damage.
Common signs your liver is healing from alcohol include:
- Decreased jaundice or yellowing of the eyes
- Reduced abdominal pain and swelling
- Decreased fatigue
- Increased energy levels
- Improved digestion and appetite
- Improved liver function test results
Your liver is healing from alcohol use when it starts to:
The following functions indicate your liver is on the mend:
- Amino-acid regulation
- Balancing glucose levels
- Enabling blood clotting
- Creating immune factors
- Eliminating bacteria from the bloodstream
- Efficient bilirubin removal
- Eliminating drugs from the system
- Converting glucose to glycogen
What are the first signs of liver damage from alcohol?
There are numerous signs of liver damage, and the effects depend upon the amount and duration of alcohol use. According to the American Liver Foundation, some early warning signs of liver disease include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Numbness in hands, feet, or both
- Yellowed skin (jaundice) Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Excessively sleepy Fatigue or weakness
As liver disease progresses, sufferers typically experience additional signs of liver damage, including:
- Severe itching
- Weight loss (no matter how much is eaten)
- Darker urine
- Seizures or coma
- Pale-colored stool (if bowel movements can be passed at all)
- Breathing problems, including wheezing and coughing up blood
- A swollen, tender abdomen
- Stomach pain
It is important to seek medical attention as soon as you start presenting symptoms. It is often the case that symptoms do not present until the liver disease is in an advanced stage, which makes healing the liver significantly more difficult, if not impossible.
What is Alcohol-Induced Liver Disease?
Alcohol-induced liver disease (AULD) is a condition that describes inflammation of your liver that occurs only when you drink too much.
Three types of alcohol-induced liver disease represent the disease’s three stages.
Fatty liver Disease
The first stage is often referred to as “fatty liver” (hepatic steatosis) because the liver contains excess fat caused by excessive alcohol consumption. People with fatty liver may not experience any signs or symptoms, but it can progress to inflammation, fibrosis, and eventually cirrhosis if drinking continues.
Fatty liver disease is usually reversible with proper weight management and quitting alcohol. Roughly 5% of the American population has fatty liver disease.
The early stages of AULD are tricky because most people do not have symptoms. In fact, many people will not start to get symptoms until the disease has moved to an advanced stage which may no longer be reversible.
That is why it’s incredibly important to see your doctor for annual check-ups and to be honest with your alcohol consumption and lifestyle choices.
The second stage is alcoholic hepatitis. It’s an inflammatory condition that often affects the liver of someone who has continued to drink alcohol excessively for a long time. If caught early enough, much of the damage can be reversed. However, if left unchecked, alcoholic hepatitis can lead to liver failure.
It is imperative that people diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis quit drinking alcohol immediately. With continued abstinence from alcohol, the liver may start to heal within 6 to 12 months.
Additionally, a doctor might recommend a special diet and/or vitamin supplements to repair the damage from malnutrition commonly associated with alcoholic hepatitis.
Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis
The third stage is alcoholic cirrhosis, which occurs when the liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, and the liver becomes permanently damaged or stops working altogether.
The prognosis for people diagnosed with alcoholic liver cirrhosis is grim. Between 60 to 90% of patients will die of liver disease.
Bottom Line on Liver Repair After You Quit Drinking Alcohol
It’s normal to want to see the benefits of sobriety as soon as possible after quitting drinking. You get results fairly quickly with the liver, depending on the many factors discussed in this article.
On the flip side, ignoring early warning signs of liver damage or prolonging alcohol abuse puts your health at significant risk.
If you’re concerned about your drinking and/or think you might be at risk for liver disease, speak with your doctor. Early prevention is so important.
Explore Online Talk Therapy with BetterHelp
Get matched with a licensed therapist based on your individual preferences and needs. Therapy sessions are available via messaging, phone, or live video chat. Addiction specialists are available.
You don’t have to do this alone. Learn about my BetterHelp experience here.
Get 10% off your first month with the code Soberish.
Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp
Take the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test
If you’re curious about your drinking patterns, you can take the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). This assessment is for informational purposes and should not be taken for medical advice or diagnosis. Speak with your doctor about your results and drinking habits.
We all know that heavy drinking is bad for us and that quitting alcohol or drinking less is better for our…
A question I get asked often (and used to ask myself) is, “Why is quitting alcohol so hard?” It’s really…
It’s Friday night, and you’ve had one too many at your office happy hour. You’re supposed to meet up with…
Ginger beer is one of the great misnomers of the beverage aisle. It says ‘beer’ right on the label, but…
Alcohol has wide-reaching effects on our brains, body, and mental health. But can it also change who we are? I’ll…
If you’re trying to lose weight, it turns out one of the BEST things you can do is stop drinking…