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Drug Abuse and Liver Disease

Drug Abuse and Liver Disease

How Do Drugs Affect the Liver?

Drug abuse is known for causing a variety of health problems, including liver disease. While many people associate liver disease with alcohol abuse, drug addiction can lead to liver damage as well.

Drug-induced liver disease refers to a disease of the organ that is caused by the abuse of illicit, over the counter, or prescription drugs. Our drug and alcohol treatment center in Gilman answers the questions “How do drugs affect the liver?” and “What are the risks involved with abusing those substances?”

How Does the Liver Work?

Most drugs are eliminated via the liver and kidneys. Specifically, the liver is an organ on the upper right-hand side of the abdomen that helps flush out toxins from the body and performs a variety of other functions. People who struggle with drug abuse can benefit from a medically monitored detox because it can help their body flush out the toxins, allowing the liver to recuperate.

Some functions of the liver include:

  • Secreting bile into intestines to help with digestion
  • Purifying blood to disarm harmful chemicals or toxins like drugs and alcohol to prevent them from causing damage
  • Sending harmful chemicals to be secreted in the stool or through the kidneys and urine
  • Producing proteins like albumin that assist in forming blood clots and healing
  • Storing minerals and vitamins
  • Removing bacteria from the bloodstream

The adverse effects of drugs on the liver not only include different diseases but death as well. A person who is addicted to drugs may not realize they are experiencing problems with their liver if they avoid medical treatment.

Types of Drug-Induced Liver Diseases

Because the liver’s main job is to flush out and disarm harmful chemicals and toxins that enter the body, active drug addiction would force the liver to work significantly harder than normal. Drug abuse can cause different forms of liver disease, like hepatitis and cirrhosis.

Drug-Induced Hepatitis

Drug-induced hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. Drugs that can cause hepatitis include Percocet, Vicodin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, birth control pills, aspirin, and statins. People who combine these drugs with alcohol are at an even higher risk of developing hepatitis.

Symptoms of drug-induced hepatitis include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pale stool
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Fatigue


Cirrhosis is a type of liver disease that causes loss of liver cells and scarring in the liver. Cirrhosis disarms the body, leaving it vulnerable to bacteria and other toxins that can cause disease and even death.

Symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Swelling in the abdomen, legs, or feet
  • Vomiting blood
  • Enlarged or swollen veins (varicose)
  • Hepatic encephalopathy (prevents the liver from filtering toxins)
  • Hepatopulmonary syndrome (a lung disease caused by liver damage)
  • Hepatorenal syndrome (kidney failure related to liver disease)
  • Hypersplenism (overactive spleen)
  • Cancer

Those who struggle with drug abuse and fail to receive addiction treatment are at risk of developing these liver diseases and more. At Banyan Treatment Centers Heartland, we offer a variety of addiction treatment programs that can help you or a loved one get sober.

How Drugs Cause Liver Disease

Drugs cause liver damage in one of two ways: by directly affecting it and by becoming a dangerous chemical that can be harmful to the liver even after the liver has processed it.

Liver damage is measured by three types of liver toxicity:

  • Dose-dependent

This level of toxicity refers to drugs that can cause liver disease in most people if a high enough dose is ingested. A common example of drugs that cause dose-dependent toxicity is Tylenol or any medications that include acetaminophen.

  • Idiosyncratic

Drugs that cause idiosyncratic toxicity will only affect people that have specific genes. These genes affect how the liver breaks down certain drugs. This is the most usual form of drug-induced liver disease because people usually take several medications at a time.

  • Drug allergy

When a person has an allergic reaction to a drug, liver inflammation occurs due to the immune system’s attempts to fight against the drugs.

What Medications Are Harmful to the Liver?

Some of the most common drugs that can cause liver disease may surprise you because of how often they are utilized. Whether a person chooses to abuse these substances or just takes them as prescribed or recommended by their doctor, it is worth considering discussing a plan of action with your doctor.

Some medications that can induce liver injury include:

  • Amoxicillin – This antibiotic is employed to fight infections of the lungs, sinuses, and throat. Amoxicillin liver damage can occur quickly after taking this drug and can last well after use has ceased.
  • Acetaminophen – When looking at what medications affect the liver, it would be foolish to leave out this common painkiller. Available as Tylenol, this over-the-counter pain medication can also reduce fevers, while its presence in cold medicine is also worth noting. If you are at risk for liver disease, make sure to read a drug’s ingredients list.
  • Anti-seizure drugs – Many anticonvulsants like phenytoin run the risk of developing liver injury, or worse, drug induced liver failure. It is important to tell your doctor about any complications, or whether you are at risk for liver disease.

Drug-induced liver injury is not something to disregard. It is a real threat and should be considered to prevent damage, disease, or even death.

Get the Help You Need With Our Illinois Drug Rehab

After answering the question, “How do drugs affect the liver?” Caution should be taken to prevent any adverse effects on one’s physical health. The combination of drug abuse and liver disease is common and affects many people. A major red flag would be a person avoiding help even when the adverse effects of their drug abuse have become apparent. If they still choose to take the drug, they know it is hurting them, they are suffering from dependency.

If you are struggling with an addiction, you can avoid liver disease and a variety of other health repercussions by getting professional help. Call our Heartland treatment center today at 888-280-4763 to learn how to safely detox from drugs and alcohol and begin your recovery journey.

Related Reading

Living With an Addict

Painkillers and Professional Athletes

The Effects of Mixing Marijuana and Alcohol


Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Drug Abuse and Liver Disease
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