Alcohol and your liver - Liver Foundation
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Alcohol and your liver

Drinking alcohol has been a pastime for man since time immemorial. In Persia and the Middle East, fermented drinks were being made since 8000 B.C. Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and regions of the Mediterranean have been producing wine since as far back as 6000 B.C. So consumption of alcohol is hardly a recent problem for mankind. Like all good things in life, moderation is the keyword when it comes to a question of how much is too much.

In Western Australia, alcohol laws are controlled by the Liquor Control Act of 1988. This Act explains how alcohol is to be supplied, sold and consumed. There is a very distinct relation between alcohol consumption and the effect it has on your liver.



The liver is a very resilient organ and will not complain until it is too far gone.  Liver damage does not happen as the result of a few drinks once in a while. It happens over a period of years after prolonged heavy drinking. However, not everyone who drinks will develop the disease because it depends on a number of factors like gender, genes, body weight and your body’s capacity for handling alcohol.

What happens when I drink alcohol?

When you are sipping that cool pint of beer or that nice glass of wine, the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream via the stomach and intestines. Since the blood must pass through the liver before circulating through the rest of the body, it means that the liver is taking the maximum concentration of alcohol first. Certain enzymes in the liver will then metabolise the alcohol so that it can be broken down into water and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide and water will eventually be excreted through the lungs and urine. Alcohol Liver Disease can lead to fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis.

So how does the alcohol harm my liver?

The problem arises when you drink faster than your liver can process the alcohol. This makes the blood alcohol level rise in the blood stream. Acetaldehyde is a toxic substance which is produced when the liver metabolises alcohol. This destroys the liver cells. The liver metabolises the alcohol with the help of two enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). ADH metabolises alcohol to acetaldehyde which is a highly toxic substance and is also a known carcinogen. Then this acetaldehyde is further metabolised down to another less active by product called acetate which in turn is broken down into water and carbon dioxide.

But I can hold my drink!

Then you are probably at greater risk. Being able to ‘hold’ your liquor is a reason for caution. It means that your body has developed a tolerance for alcohol and that puts you at more risk of liver, heart and brain damage.

Go Easy

Remember to take a look at the label on the bottle of alcohol. You will find information on the labels which tell you the about the amount of standard drinks in that container. Always be careful to stay within the legal limit if you are going to drive, use heavy machinery or do anything that might be considered risky.  The blood alcohol level on the road is the same as that on water -0.05%. In fact  – according to the NSW maritime transport guidelines on water, the wind, waves and sun can have a more potent effect adding to the risk. (http://www,


What does blood alcohol content mean?

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is the measure of alcohol concentration in your blood. It is measured by the weight in grams of alcohol present in 100 millilitres of blood. A person’s BAC can be determined by analysing a blood, breath or urine sample.

Once you start drinking, the Blood Alcohol content in your body begins to rise. It can take up to two hours to reach its highest concentration. So even though you may not have had a drink in an hour or so, the BAC may still be rising.

What is a Standard Drink?

Any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol is called a standard drink.

So what is the legal drinking limit?

In Australia for drivers, there are two main limit levels.

0.02 BAC applies to drivers who hold a provisional licence (P platers) who are no longer novice drivers.

0.05 BAC applies to drivers with a full licence.