Alcohol Sensitivity with Liver Disease - British Liver Trust

British Liver Trust

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Alcohol Sensitivity with Liver Disease

Dd4560 profile image

I've been a binge drinker for 17 years. Not everyday, mostly just on weekends, where I would drink around 10 - 15 bottles of beer per day. I would drink more during Christmas time, and other major holidays. In the last few years, the hangovers had begun to be worse than before, and just to feel better, I began drinking about a 6 pack on Sundays and Mondays some times just to ease the hangover symptoms. Then during the first 3 weeks of covid lockdown, I drank about a 6 pack and about a 3rd to half of a 750 ml bottle of whiskey everyday. At the end I just needed to stop drinking because my blood pressure was through the roof, as well as my anxiety. Over the last few years I have also noticed that I get weird brain zaps when going to sleep or waking up after a night of drinking.

I haven't drank for over a year now, except for one 6 pack about 6 months ago, and on 2 occasions within the last 2 months. I've noticed that the hangovers are still bad, and the day after feels horrible, and I have a hard time falling asleep because of palpitations and brain zaps, which is basically my body waking me up anytime I'm about to doze off.

I had an US last year in October after not drinking for 4 months, and I was told that my liver was slightly fatty, and slightly enlarged. My blood results I had 4 in the past 2 years, have not shown anything to be concerned about. Ltfs normal... my albumin and mcv were a little higher than normal after my lockdown binge, and platelets have been at 200, 250, 240, and most recently 235, which is about a 100 above the minimal normal. Basically my question is, if I am already showing alcohol sensitivity with a fatty liver, then how do people continue drinking to the point of throwing up blood? And some people continue to drink even after being diagnosed with cirrhosis after they get out of the hospital? Do people with advanced alcoholic liver disease not have the same alcohol sensitivity as I seemed to have acquired?

The reason for my post is of course the fact that sometimes US doesn't pick up Cirrhosis, and I am just stumped as to why I seem to not be able to tolerate alcohol any more and I've read a lot of posts on this website and not too many people have mentioned alcohol sensitivity. Does anyone have similar experience?

30 Replies

Problem drinkers - like I was I mean - will drink alcohol despite the body rebelling. The day of my last drink my body literally was "saying" I don't want this poison as I attempted to drink a pint of lager. I couldn't finish it as I was gagging (sorry to be graphic). A few hours later I was in A&E via an ambulance where I nearly died. I think a lot of people become "sensitive" to alcohol as their liver disease progresses but yeah it's not a subject that comes up a lot. I was a huge drinker for years but the summer when I became really ill (2018) I actually drank a lot less because (I think) my liver couldn't deal with it. I know a fair bit about cirrhosis but am trying to explain it how I'd have liked it explained to me if I'd asked your question if that makes sense! There's also the psychological side - the idea of drinking is not appealing to me although I do have thoughts about drinking still. Maybe your mind and body are saying "Dd4560! We don't want that stuff!" hence feeling so rough?

Dd4560 profile image
Dd4560 in reply to Phil_1972

I'm done drinking, it's not worth the side effects for me anymore.

Positive001 profile image
Positive001 in reply to Dd4560

You are only concerned about the side effects/hangovers ?? Not concerned about HE, knackering your liver and kidneys or killing yourself then ? Pleased you have decided to give up drinking though for whatever your reason.

Dd4560 profile image
Dd4560 in reply to Positive001

I'm concerned about everything, which is why I read hundreds if not thousands of posts on this forum. I started this post because I was curious if any other people out there with liver disease due to alcohol have experienced similar "alcohol sensitivity" either as an early or late stage symptom before/after diagnosis; and was hoping the ones that did could describe it. Acquired alcohol sensitivity seems to be a less talked about topic here at BLT and I was just wondering if anyone had anything to share.

Positive001 profile image
Positive001 in reply to Dd4560

Don't get this " alcohol sensitivity " which sounds more like you are trying to play it down. Your symptoms show your body is screaming " Alcohol is poisoning me!"

Dd4560 profile image
Dd4560 in reply to Phil_1972

When you say your liver couldn't deal with it, you mean like liver pain or something else?

Phil_1972 profile image
Phil_1972 in reply to Dd4560

I had pain everywhere and a ton of other symptoms. I could barely walk and it was indescribably awful and not just for me but my wife who had to witness me close to death over that summer. I think the other people who've responded are well intended but blunt as they don't want you to go through what they did. I think for me - and I want to emphasise I'm only talking about myself - I believe I had a sensitivity to alcohol because my body didn't want it - not by that point. I don't know if there's a medical term for it. Like I said the day I last consumed alcohol I "only" had two pints - not even two as I didn't finish the second - and I was gagging. This was in a beer garden in front of several people. One of them then had to help me get home as I could barely walk - not through drunkenness but because by this point I was very unwell.

Yes the medical term is alcohol abuse. There is nothing "sensitive" about it. It's poison .... it's ethanol and is a killer end of.

With respect "alcohol abuse" isn't as far as I'm aware a medical term and if it WAS it wouldn't be apt within this context - my comment about me I mean. I wasn't abusing alcohol - I was physically addicted to it and I can tell you without one second's hesitation it was awful to be like that for a few months let alone decades like some folk - as I say above by the end I was drinking little compared to previously.

chrisw740 profile image
chrisw740 in reply to Phil_1972

To be fair most Dr's do use variations on this term... all be it in medical abbreviations that some patients don't spot on notes and letters.

AUD Alcohol Use Disorder

EtOH A Ethanol Abuse

EtOH M Ethanol Misuse

EtOH DS Ethanol Dependence Syndrome

Of course none may be relevant to you or have been said about you. I totally get your objection/context though.

Phil_1972 profile image
Phil_1972 in reply to chrisw740

I think a one off slip is a bit different to "abuse". I see your point though.

If your hangovers are suddenly worse, and the drunkenness happens much quicker, and blackouts a lot easier, then that is your liver telling you it can’t handle the toxin load anymore.

Continue the toxins = scarring= cirrhosis

velvet007 profile image
velvet007 in reply to MLB_77

My husband is 63, he has drank all his life, the past two years he has turned to top shelf (Scotch mainly), half a bottle a day, i cannot begin to explain the pure hell he has put himself in, also myself and the family. He has been in total denial, last month after waiting for a fibre scan he was diagnosed with cirrhosis, i have letters from specialists telling him to totally abstain, as the liver cannot process alcohol any longer, i could write a book of the misery alcohol has caused in the past 2 years, my husband has a loving family, lovely home but has always put the booze first. After many rows, tears, he has said he will stop, I pray he will, we need a miracle......

Phil_1972 profile image
Phil_1972 in reply to velvet007

He can stop if he really wants to. It can be hard work and take a lot of commitment to maintain sobriety as I know but it’s so worth it. Also there’s no shame in needing help through a GP, AA, SMART or other approaches to addressing problem drinking. I’ve been sober for just over three years. When I left hospital after an emergency admission and being diagnosed with cirrhosis I had no confidence I could stay stopped - no way. I sought help from a recovery organisation nearby and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. All the best to you and your husband.

My husband couldn't and didn't give up after many years of heavy drinking, illnesses and hospital admissions, until l threw him out. He suddenly realised just how much he was going to lose. By the time he finally saw the light and got 1 to 1 councelling while living with his Mother, it was too late, alcohol had taken over his organs and it killed him. Nothing to do with his body being "sensitive" to poison.

I'm sorry for your loss. I know the score about how ill it can make a person as I nearly died and am living with cirrhosis. I also know and I believe this very strongly that chronic problem drinking doesn't just damage the body it also messes the mind up. It definitely did me - even in hospital after the worst time in A&E which I can't describe as it would upset many readers I was still telling himself what was going on wasn't due to alcohol. On a high dependency liver ward I was telling myself I had something wrong with my appendix - I'm not lying. My head was shot to pieces and I was in a "can't live with it, can't live without it" place mentally. It's easy enough to shout at someone that they can't (or shouldn't) drink alcohol, threaten to leave OR leave or tell them how much they have to live for and so on but for countless reasons pleading with someone to stop or telling them how badly their liver is damaged etc often doesn't work. I know - I created and co-run a support group on Facebook for people with Alcohol-related liver disease and the reasons why people continue to drink are complex and very personal.

Thank you for your reply Phil, and well done you x

Phil_1972 profile image
Phil_1972 in reply to velvet007

Thank you. I've been sober for just over three years. It's not something I brag about although I AM proud I've been able to stay stopped and rebuild my life.

Like I said, I was a problem drinker, if I had one drink, by the end of the night I'd have 10 or more, usually till blackout. In my 20s I would wake up and shrug off the hangover and go out, hang out, go to work, or whatever without giving it a second thought. These days, if I drink, my hangovers are so bad, that it's better off for me to not drink. Coincidentally I have been diagnosed with fatty liver through ultrasound. Now, when I drink, I get brain zaps, palpitations, a pre-faint feeling like I'm about to passout but never do, also really bad anxiety. It's not just the regular hangover symptoms from my 20s. The symptoms now are bad enough where I'd rather just live my life sober to avoid the hangovers (which last for days after). This is what I mean by acquired alcohol sensitivity. Meaning I think because of my fatty liver and potentially other health issues unknown to me at this time, my body is rejecting alcohol and letting me know about it.

So I started this post to ask if anyone has ever experienced anything like I experience? People with advanced alcoholic liver disease, did you drink through your newly acquired alcohol sensitivity (more severe reaction to your alcohol consumption)? Did you notice your body can't handle liquor as well as it used to, yet you kept drinking despite your body giving you strong signals to stop?

The reason I ask is we read a lot about people ending up in hospital due to alcohol, on deaths door, and getting diagnosed with cirrhosis. Just wondering if they had any symptoms or signs of their body telling them to stop months or maybe years before? Have they noticed years prior that the hangovers are just much worse than in their 20s? Any signs that their body was telling them to stop the alcohol abuse?

I was told several years before my "official" diagnosis my liver was "starting to struggle" after some routine tests. I didn't pursue the conversation with the GP as I didn't want to face the reality which was I had a problem. I often found myself much more inebriated on less alcohol than in the past i.e. my tolerance had decreased after years of increasing as in I could drink loads and go to work etc albeit feeling wretched. A lot of people I know and have known without liver disease say hangovers get worse as they've gotten older as well. I'm not sure if my comments are helping but hope some of what I'm saying is relevant.

Dd4560 profile image
Dd4560 in reply to Phil_1972

It's helpful. My experience has been that slowly over time, after drinking, I would get stronger palpitations, high blood pressure, pre-syncope feeling, insomnia, muscle spasms, and brain zaps when trying to fall asleep, also high anxiety and depressive mood. My tolerance hasn't gone down though, just the hangover/withdrawal has become ridiculously not worth it. Even after a very sober year, (I only drank 3 nights through out the past year), I still often experience palpitations, sometimes brain zaps when trying to fall asleep, often muscle spams when laying down/trying to go to sleep, often now I experience when I am sleeping, I wake up in the middle of the night and my right arm is numb and it takes about a minute to unfreeze.

3 years ago, I felt really healthy, but now I have high blood pressure, and all the stuff I mentioned above, including dark circles under my eyes, and I have gotten checked up, and can't seem to find any health issues, except for the ultrasound which said slightly enlarged fatty liver, last year.

If you were just a weekend drinker and have a fatty liver I doubt it is close to cirrhosis, and if you have quit then good for you and I'm sure your liver will recover and you will be fine. There are people who post here who were apparently on their death bed, recovered, got compensated and live generally good lives now and others who have lived like 20 years with cirrhosis. Your situation hardly sounds terribly serious in relation to many, and if you've stopped drinking then that is great. It almost sounds like people want to make your situation sound worse than it is. And to answer your original question, it does seem pretty rare for someone to have fatty liver to get THAT sensitive to alcohol and THAT much more hungover if they were a heavy drinker...though you were a weekend drinker and I had friends in college who by the time they were in their mid 30s said they just couldn't drink alcohol like they used to anymore. In any case, think the senstivity is a good thing. I wish I would have gotten that sensitivity 5+ years ago.

Dd4560 profile image
Dd4560 in reply to WilkesG

I also had a chest CT in early 2021, it was mainly for the lungs, but they commented on minimal scarring on my left kidney, so I would assume if they saw any irregularity on my liver, they would of mentioned it... since the lungs are above the liver, and kidneys are below.

Also noticed slight clubbing on my thumb and index finger, not something that sticks out like in google pictures, but something you would notice if you were specifically looking for it.

Had 6 blood tests in the last 2 and a half years, ast and alt has always been in the 20s - 30s. In the past year had US, and CT scan, also had holter monitor for my heart, been to a pulmonologist also. Everyone says they don't see any problems. Can it all just be health anxiety? IDK. Recently started feeling slight pinching feeling in the liver area after meals, pinch for a few seconds, then nothing, then come on a few minutes later, would last maybe 5 - 10 mins total, felt it 2 and 3 days ago, but nothing today...

Meanwhile I have a buddy, he's been drinking as long as me, every day. He consumes at least a 6 pack on weekdays and a lot more on weekends. Developed gout, taking his gout pills and downs it with beer... His doctor told him he has slight liver damage based on his blood results. I ask him what his doctor told him, he says, yea doctor said "it's just slight liver damage, no big deal." It's really a hell of an addiction, even after suffering from gout, where he had his ankles swollen many times in the last 2 years, bad enough where he was stuck to the couch for days at a time, because it hurt too much to walk, he still drinks knowing that's what's causing his gout.

Phil_1972 profile image
Phil_1972 in reply to Dd4560

That's how it is for a lot of people and I don't mean that at all flippantly. I used to sit in pubs with people clearly unwell from alcohol - like gout and I now realise liver disease - and look at people in the same environment who also looked sick. This was years before I became unwell myself and I'd think "wow how can you still drink when it's clearly making you ill?" But I knew very little then about problem drinking. I've never had gout but friends (or drinking buddies rather) in the past with it described it as really, really painful. Like your friend - still drinking. As far as Health Anxiety Disorder goes I've known a few people with this but I don't think that's for anyone here to say yay/nay. What I would say is if in doubt have more tests. If those tests suggest your OK then maybe consider discussing the possibility it might be be anxiety based. Just a suggestion.

Falco1 profile image
Falco1 in reply to WilkesG

Hi. I was diagnosed with what they thought is fatty liver from an ultrasound in july. All I was told was to cut down on alcohol and have another blood test in november. I read so many different opinions on websites from if you abstain from alcohol for 2 weeks it can be cured and you can drink again but only up to the recommended guidelines, to another website saying never drink again if you have fatty liver etc. My ultrasound description is very "wordy" so trying to de-jargon it has been interesting too. I have read that you need to modify your eating now even if alcohol is believed to have caused the fatty liver. Wonder why there are different answers and who is correct in general speaking? Thanks

Dd4560 profile image
Dd4560 in reply to Falco1

I heard that 2 week thing from people, but does it sound believable? Not to me. Liver disease doesn't happen overnight, and so why would it be cured so quickly? Depending on the severity of the fatty liver, I think a reasonable time frame to cure fatty liver would be 1-2 years and at least 10-20% reduction in body weight. And of course following a decent diet, low sugar, etc... I personally have always had a decent diet, only liquids I drank are either water, coffee, tea, beer, liquor, now I don't drink alcohol. Always choose wheat/multi-grain over white. I eat Greek yogurt, brown rice, buckwheat, chicken breast, salads, etc.. It's really the days when I used to drink is when I'd be stuffing myself with pizza at 3 in the morning.

I think often times if a doctor doesn't think that your fatty liver is caused by alcohol, then they will tell the patient that they can still have alcohol as long as they stick to the government guidelines, but they will say to watch the diet and lose weight over time in order to cure the fatty liver.

I was told that I had a slightly enlarged fatty liver, and one of my family members have an extremely enlarged fatty liver. So US can tell fatty liver, and also how big it is, which they often measure in centimeters. If you liver wasn't shown to be "very" fatty, and blood results were normal, the doctor wouldn't be too concerned, and they would just assume the patient is listening to instructions and watching what they eat.

Today, all across the developed world, people are eating so much crap all the time that fatty liver is becoming more common, many doctors don't even think of it as a big deal just because they see it so often. Many people live with a fatty liver for decades before actually progressing to more advanced stages of liver disease. We who read these forums know that fatty liver is only the first stage before cirrhosis, and we take it more seriously. It would benefit people if more doctors were more concerned about their patient's fatty livers, however it's also true, many people don't really care, or won't really do much to fix it.

For example, a doctor will tell 100 patients about how serious it is that they have fatty liver. How many you think will take it seriously, change their diet, cut out alcohol, lose weight? How many you think will actually even spend an hour of their time to google what fatty liver even is?

Sure, I don't know if I would be able to help... What do you mean you are low on credit?

Well, you can PM me or just post here, whenever you get a chance.

Falco1 profile image
Falco1 in reply to Dd4560


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