What Dr. Luke Has to Say About Liver Disease and Alcohol

Bei La was 42 years old and noticed that his eyes were yellow.  He also noticed that over the past several months and especially weeks he was especially weak.   His manager at work had told him that he was not doing his work as well as had been done before.  His manager advised him to go to the company hospital, which Bei La did.  When he arrived at the doctor’s the doctor asked him a lot of questions and did an exam and then some blood work.  The doctor called Bei La back after several days and told him that he had some liver problems, but was not related to viral hepatitis, as these tests were normal.  The doctor seemed confused about the cause of the liver problems, which he was sure, was causing the yellow eyes and the fatigue. He talked to Bei La again and asked him some of the same questions he asked him the first time he saw and examined him.  Particularly he asked him again about drinking alcohol.

The first time Bei La had told him he drank alcohol every few weeks and then not very much.  The doctor this time asked him again about drinking and specifically about his particular work function.  At work Bei La was a representative who tried to sell the company products to other Chinese companies.  This job called for Bei La to eat out a lot and also to entertain a lot of Chinese at banquets.  The doctor asked him if he drank a lot at these dinners and after a lot of questioning Bei La said he did drink a lot and had these dinners two to three times a week.  He also told the doctor that he had been in this work for 7 years.  Before this he did not drink much.  However, since being in this job he had begun also to drink a lot at home.  So much in fact that it had caused a lot of marital problems.  His wife had even talked about divorcing him.

This situation with Bei La is not uncommon.  It is common all over the world, in every country and in every group of people.  Also alcohol has been a problem in the world since it began.  Why is it that alcohol causes so much problems and what are the problems it causes with the liver?

First, alcohol causes people to be addicted to it.  Like Bei La many people start drinking without realizing the consequences of drinking. They do not realize that after weeks and months of drinking they become addicted to drinking.  An addiction is no more than something, which someone has to keep doing even when they do not want to do something.  They just cannot stop doing it.  In this case it is drinking alcohol.  The sad thing is they often do more and more, again in this case it is drinking more and more alcohol.  Before they know it they are addicted.

What happens when people drink too much?  Several things happen to them, none of which is good.  First, when they drink they are spending money, which their family could use on other things, like food, clothes, education, etc.  This only causes strife in the family.  Second, when a person drinks too much they are more likely to not be in control of their thinking.  They say and do things which are either not right or are harmful.  Even to their wife, children and parents.  Again, this causes problems.  Third, it affects their work.  They are not able to do their work well.  They are late for work.  They have a hard time concentrating and if they have drunk a lot for a long time they can have liver problems which causes significant health problems.

The Bible has a lot to say about this problem.  King Solomon lived about 950BC in what is now modern day Israel.  He wrote a lot of Proverbs about how to live wisely.  These Proverbs are recorded in the Bible for us to read and learn from today.  Here is some of what he had to say about drinking alcohol.  ‘Who has woe?  Who has sorrow? Who has strife?  Who has complaints?  Who has needless bruises?  Who has bloodshot eyes?  Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls if, mixed wine.  Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.  Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things.  You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging.  ‘They hit me,’ you will say, ‘but I’m not hurt!  They beat me, but I don’t feel it!  When will I wake up so I can find another drink (Proverbs 23.29-35)!’  This is all too common with alcoholics.  Why can’t they stop and get control of their drinking problem?

First it is an addiction.  Second, however, it is a problem, which is based in the sin problem of man before God.  Man just cannot stop sinning. Sin is a part of his nature.  The Bible in another place speaks to this problem.  A man named Paul wrote a book to the city of Rome around 63AD.  This book speaks to this issue.  It says, ‘You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance (Romans 2.1-4)?’

We all have no excuse because the very things we tell others not to do we do and vice versa.  We are helpless in our sins.  We cannot help but sin.  How can we get out of this dilemma?  What can we do?  Is there anyway out for me or for an alcohol?  Yes there is.  But before we talk about how to overcome this way out let us first talk about the effect of alcohol on the liver.

The liver is of course a very important of the body.  It provides many very important functions of the body.  We must have it and have it healthy to live a good life. There is no exception to that rule.

Alcohol serves as a toxin or poison to the liver. In mild amounts this is not the case but heavy and daily drinking causes this problem.  After a time the liver cannot cope with so much alcohol and the liver cells are slowly over time destroyed by the alcohol.  This takes years of drinking but it occurs.  The sad thing is that many people who drink heavily do not realize this.  They actually, like Bei La think they are not drinking that much when in fact they are.  Slowly over time these people come to destroy their liver.

When the liver is destroyed it is prevented from performing some of its most vital functions.  For example the liver breaks down and destroys many chemicals in the body.  This can be prevented when the liver is damaged.  This damage causes us to be tired.  One of the most important functions of the liver is making certain very important proteins in the body.  Some of these proteins help the blood in our body clot so that when we are cut we do not bleed to death.  Liver damage from alcohol can prevent these proteins from being produced in adequate amounts so that a person with liver disease from alcohol may not be able to clot their blood adequately and are in danger of bleeding to death.  What a problem.

Someone may ask, can the liver be so damaged from alcohol that it can never be repaired?  Yes and no.  People like Bei La can stop drinking alcohol.  If they do they the chances are that over time, i.e. months to years, their liver can heal itself back to normal.  This is one of the most remarkable aspects of the liver, that its ability to heal and regenerate itself.  Truly the liver is a most remarkable organ in the body.   The key is total and complete stopping from drinking.  If they even try one small drink many start drinking heavily again.

Some people drink so heavily and for so long they destroy their liver so bad it never is able to recover.  Unfortunately once this has occurred these people can die within weeks to months of this being discovered.  However, even with this group of people, totally stopping drinking can prolong the time they will live.

Other problems, which people who drink alcohol and then have liver disease are the accumulation of fluid in the body.  This accumulation is mostly in the stomach, but can be in the legs, lungs and heart.  This is not only uncomfortable but requires a person to take medications to get rid of the excess body fluid.  These medications can also have some harmful effects to the liver and other parts of the body.  Thus one problem, which is alcohol, leads to the second problem, which are liver problems, to fluid accumulation, to taking medications, to medication side effects.  This is of course a large cost, i.e. seeing a doctor and the cost of the medications.  Thus alcohol has a constant and continuous effect as a result of drinking.  This on top of the reality that most people with alcohol related liver disease cannot work.  They just do not feel well enough.

Well, what type of treatments is there for alcoholic liver disease?  Actually very few.  The most important thing is for people to stop drinking alcohol.  If 10 things could be done to help people with alcoholic liver disease this would be all ten.  Stopping drinking is so very important to helping a diseased liver from alcohol.  There are medicines for side effects, like the fluid accumulation we just mentioned and the bleeding.  However, these are just temporary measure and soon the liver problems are so bad they overwhelm even the medicine's ability to help.  Thus the key is to stop drinking alcohol.

Another thing, which can be done, is to admit your powerlessness to over not only drinking but also all of your sin problems.  We talked about this briefly a little earlier.  The book to the Romans we mentioned earlier also speaks to this issue.  It says, ‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5.6-8).’

What a powerful paragraph for people powerless to overcome their problems.  When we were powerless to help ourselves in our sin problem, Jesus Christ died for us on the Cross.  While we were still doing wrong Jesus Christ died for our sins. That is a great love.  Is it not?  How can we come to know this power of God so save us from our sins?  Again in the book to the city of Rome Paul addresses this issue.

‘I put this in human terms, because you are weak in your natural selves.  Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.  When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?  Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become salves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6.19-23).’

This passage says several important things.  First, we are slaves to sin.  We have no choice but to sin.  The results of doing those sinful things only leads to death.  God can set us free from sin and give us eternal life.  Not a miserable life here and eternal death.  This is surely important.

You may ask how can you be saved from your sin, which is simply going against God and have eternal life?  Good question.  Again, the book of Romans addresses this question. It says, ‘If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved, for it is with the heart that you believe and are justified and it is with the mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10.9,10).’  All we need to do is confess to Jesus Christ that we are sinners, we believe he died on the Cross-for our sins, and that he rose from the grave to show his triumph over sin and death.

You may pray this simple prayer after me if you believe this.  ‘Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that I have done wrong.  I believe that you died on the Cross-for my sins and that you were raised from the dead and now am living for evermore.  I now place my trust in you.’  If you have prayed this prayer you are now a child of the eternal King, Jesus Christ.