When you first quit drinking alcohol, you likely wonder how long it will take to reverse the damage on 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. So long as you intervene early, you should be able to recover completely! Let’s look at the timeline, as well as signs of alcohol-induced liver disease you should never ignore.
How long after quitting drinking does your liver heal?
The liver can regenerate its cells, which means it can heal itself after you stop drinking alcohol. The process of regeneration, where the liver creates new cells to replace old ones that are damaged or dead, is known as hepatocyte proliferation.
The main function of the liver 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?
Unfortunately, no. We’ll dive into the factors that determine whether you’ve done irreversible damage to your liver as a result of your drinking. Additionally, we’ll look at how long it takes for all reversible damage to take place. Let’s jump in!
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 any liver damage before quitting drinking.
It could take anywhere from a month to several years for your liver to completely heal after you stop drinking. However, various factors will influence this time frame like your age, the amount you drink each day, and if you quit drinking 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?
It takes just 30 days 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 factors and additional risk factors throughout the quitting process to speed up the healing process.
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.
There are three types of alcohol-induced liver disease representing the three stages of the disease.
Fatty liver Disease
The first stage is often referred to as “fatty liver” (hepatic steatosis) because the liver contains an excess of 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 in that 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 completely normal to want to see the benefits of sobriety as soon as possible after you quit drinking. With the liver, you actually do get results fairly quickly, depending on the many factors we 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.
If you need additional resources, check out the following:
- 17 Online Sobriety Support Spaces to Help You Recover
- Am I an Alcoholic? Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse Everyone Should Know
- What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Drinking
- What to Expect the First 30 Days of Sobriety
Access should not be a barrier to help.
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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.