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Alcohol and Health

How Much Alcohol Causes Liver Damage?

May 15, 2023
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 15, 2023
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
May 15, 2023
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
May 15, 2023
11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
May 15, 2023
11 min read

Drinking too much alcohol can have serious consequences for our health, especially when it comes to our vital organs, not the least of which is our liver. The human liver is one of the largest and most complicated organs in our body. Its proper functioning is essential to our life — it is responsible for multiple metabolic functions, including filtering out toxins from our blood, producing bile so we can digest food properly, and producing and storing energy through a chemical called glycogen. In addition, the liver plays an important role in producing hormones and regulating our immune system. 

Damage to our liver ranges from mild effects which are reversible to more serious conditions which cannot be reversed. Having a knowledge of how much alcohol causes liver damage will set you and your liver up for success by maximizing your health and overall wellness. An unhealthy liver is not something we want to have — quite the opposite, so read on for how to keep your liver safe! In this post we’re going to take a look at the science behind alcohol and liver damage. We’ll cover the recommended limits for drinking, and we’ll conclude with some thoughts on how to keep you and your liver safe moving forward.

Alcohol and Liver Damage

Drinking alcohol can cause damage to our liver in a variety of ways. The most common kind of liver damage from excessive alcohol use is alcoholic hepatitis, which results in swelling and inflammation of the liver tissue. In addition, there are other symptoms of this condition, which include fatigue, abdominal pain, elevated liver enzymes, and jaundice (when our skin and eyes become yellowish). Alcoholic hepatitis isn’t limited to long-term alcohol use; it can also be caused by short-term binge drinking. In serious cases, it can also cause cirrhosis, which is a scarring of liver tissue to the point that it is no longer functioning properly. The worst cases of cirrhosis can ultimately lead to liver cancer, liver failure, and in the most severe cases, death.

One thing to note about alcohol is that our body recognizes it as a toxin, and therefore when we drink, our body prioritizes processing the alcohol over everything else, including digestion. This means that while our liver is hard at work trying to filter out the alcohol, other processes like digesting the carbohydrates in our stomach get put on hold, and the result is often that the calories from food and drinks get stored as fat. Over time, this can lead to an accumulation of fat in our abdomen, and it’s a big reason why regular consumption of alcoholic drinks can lead to weight gain.

How Much Alcohol Causes Liver Damage?

Because we all metabolize alcohol differently based on our age, biological sex, body weight and overall health, there isn’t an exact number we can give you that is a limit for reducing your chances of having liver problems. In general, studies have shown that the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing issues with your liver and potentially even damaging it in the long term. Therefore, if you’ve been having any of the symptoms described above, you should definitely speak to your doctor.

If you haven’t been having liver issues but you still want to know what level of drinking is deemed safe, a good reference point to take into consideration is the set of guidelines published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends that adults over the age of 21 should limit themselves to drinking a maximum of two standard drinks per day for men and one standard drink per day for women. One drink would be equal to a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a single 1.5-ounce shot of liquor.

However, it’s important to note that recent studies have shown that even moderate drinking doesn’t protect us against liver damage; again, we want to emphasize that the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing all kinds of physical issues, from your liver to many other organs and systems in your body. And especially if you’ve been drinking above these recommended limits on an ongoing basis, you are at significantly higher risk of developing liver problems the longer you continue to drink excessively.

How Can You Stay Safe?

The good news is that the human liver is the one organ that can regenerate itself, so if we reduce our drinking or stop altogether, we can give it the chance it needs to reset and get back to its peak performance. This can happen in just a matter of weeks or months! In the meantime, there are other strategies we can adopt to help support a healthy liver and a healthier life in general. Let’s take a look at just a handful of them here:

Avoid binge drinking. If you’re going to drink, try to stay within the recommended limits mentioned above; when we binge drink and have a few or more drinks in a short period of time, we significantly increase the stress we’re placing on our liver and other bodily systems.

Track your drinks. This may sound simple, but tracking drinks is an effective way to ensure that you’re staying within your planned limits. You can also spread out your drinks across a greater period of time to give your liver and the rest of your body a chance to process the alcohol. Additionally, if you drink often, try to space out your drinking sessions to give your liver a chance to recover.

Don’t drink on an empty stomach. When we don’t have a sufficient amount of food in our system, the alcohol we ingest gets absorbed even more quickly than usual. This can not only increase our intoxication to dangerous levels, but it also places a huge strain on our liver. 

Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and drink plenty of water. The better our overall diet and fitness regimen, the stronger and healthier our liver will be. This includes staying hydrated in order to ensure optimal functioning of our liver and all of our internal systems.

If you have any health-related concerns, consult with your doctor. When in doubt, it’s best to check in with the medical professionals who support you. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, and don’t be afraid of requesting a physical exam with bloodwork if you think you have a problem. Better to know now and be able to take action than to discover later on that it’s too late!

Are You Ready To Drink Less?

If you’ve read this article and are thinking about reducing or eliminating your alcohol consumption, then the Reframe app is here to help support you in making this difficult decision. More importantly, we’re here to equip you with the tools and skills you need to persevere and achieve your goals.

How does Reframe do it? For starters, we provide you with daily readings focused on the neuroscience of alcohol. We want you to understand the scientific facts about this substance so you can make your own decisions about what to drink and why. Next, we give you a set of daily tasks to complete, including a journal prompt and other activities like guided meditations and motivational quotes to sustain you through the day to day challenges of drinking less.

In addition to these resources, our #1-rated app gives you access to a vibrant worldwide community of people just like you through our 24/7 Forum chat. We also have licensed coaches who can provide one-on-one counseling sessions. Even better, we have daily check-in calls on Zoom led by coaches and fellow Reframers who help people to share their stories to inspire you along the way. It’s so empowering to discover that you’re not alone!

There’s also an in-app Toolkit filled with resources designed to help you in the everyday situations you’ll face in a life of drinking less, especially cravings. We give you the skills and tools you need to not only survive but to thrive through the challenges. Best of all, the Reframe app is free for 7 days, so there’s no risk to give it a try! We’re confident that once you see the difference Reframe can make, you’ll want to stick with our proven path to success.

Are you ready to discover life beyond drinking? Let’s get started so you can get moving toward the healthiest, happiest version of you, one step at a time. Download Reframe today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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