During the holiday festivities, our alcohol consumption typically tends to increase. A new study, however, provides a word of caution, as it found that when combined with repeated binge drinking, chronic alcohol use damages the liver more than previously thought.

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Combining binge drinking with chronic alcohol use damages the liver more than what was previously thought, researchers warn.

The study, led by Shivendra Shukla, PhD, from the University of Missouri School of Medicine, is published in the journal Biomolecules.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is the most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the US, with 1 in 6 adults binge drinking around four times a month.

Binge drinking – as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – is a drinking pattern that brings an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g percent or above.

For men, this typically happens when they consume five or more drinks within about 2 hours; for women, this happens when they consume four drinks or more in the same time.

Shukla and colleagues explain that chronic alcoholics who also binge drink are often likely to have an intensified liver injury. The mechanism behind this, however, is not understood, which is why they wanted to investigate further.

“We know that this behavior causes large fatty deposits in the liver that ultimately impair the organ’s ability to function properly,” explains Shukla.

“However, we wanted to understand the mechanism that causes this damage and the extent of the harm. Our research focused on different forms of alcohol abuse and the results of those behaviors,” he adds.

To further investigate, Shukla and her team assessed the extent of liver injury caused by chronic alcohol use, repeat binge episodes and a combination of the two in mice.

Fast facts about binge drinking
  • Most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent
  • Binge drinkers aged 65 years and older report binge drinking more often than young adults aged 18-34 years
  • Binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes over $75,000.

Learn more about alcohol poisoning

Results showed that over the course of 4 weeks, the mice exposed to both chronic alcohol use and repeated binge drinking showed the highest levels of damage to their livers.

And, not surprisingly, the groups that were exposed to either chronic alcohol use or acute binge drinking episodes showed moderate liver damage, compared with the control group not exposed to alcohol.

Shukla says their “outcome came as no surprise.”

What did come as a surprise, however, was that the mice exposed to both chronic use and repeat binge episodes had liver damage that “increased tremendously.”

“Even more shocking,” he says, “was the extent of fatty deposits in the livers of those exposed to chronic plus binge alcohol. It was approximately 13 times higher than the control group.”

This fat accumulation in the liver was partially caused by metabolic changes, the team notes, adding that the changes also increased stress on the organ while decreasing its ability to fight the stress.

Shukla further explains:

Drinking alcohol excessively can create an inflammatory response to the liver and other organ systems in the body. If those organs work at a lower level of function, then a whole host of physiological processes can be affected.

It is important for us to understand the extent of damage caused by alcohol abuse, which also can lead to other health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer.”

Earlier this month, Medical News Today investigated 10 health risks of chronic heavy drinking.