Author: Charles Frank

Alcoholic liver disease: Symptoms, treatment, and causes

alcoholic liver disease

To prevent alcoholic liver disease and other conditions linked to the consumption of alcohol, doctors advise people to follow National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) guidelines. In people with liver failure, the liver completely ceases to function. This can be an outcome of advanced-stage liver disease and often means that a liver transplant is the only option for prolonged survival.

The first step in treating alcohol-related cirrhosis is to find the support you or your loved one needs to stop drinking. It’s important to identify the trigger whenever possible in case the condition is reversible. A liver transplant is a challenging procedure, and the rules about who can receive an organ are complex.

This article explores the early signs and symptoms of alcoholic liver disease, its stages, causes, risk factors, treatments, and prevention. Still, around 10 to 20% of people who develop alcohol-related fatty liver disease go on to develop cirrhosis. People with alcohol-related cirrhosis tend to have a less favorable prognosis, in part because the liver scarring cannot be reversed and additional complications may develop. For these patients, a liver transplant is often the best option. Please stop consuming all alcohol if you have acute hepatitis or cirrhosis.

Healthy liver vs. liver cirrhosis

The lower your name is placed on the transplant list, the longer you may need to wait. For example, if you’re a young adult, you may need to wait longer than an older adult, even if your medical needs are the same. Talk openly to your provider about your alcohol intake.

Alcoholic hepatitis is caused by damage to the liver from drinking alcohol. Just how alcohol damages the liver and why it does so only in some heavy drinkers isn’t clear. It may start with fatty liver disease, progressing to alcohol-related hepatitis, and then to alcohol-related cirrhosis.

alcoholic liver disease

These treatments include medications, counseling, support groups, and behavioral therapy. To diagnose ALD, a healthcare provider will assess alcohol use, ask about symptoms, and conduct several tests. An assessment of alcohol use will establish when alcohol consumption started, how much a person drinks, and how often. The liver is responsible for metabolizing or processing ethanol, the main component of alcohol. Over time, the liver of a person who drinks heavily can become damaged and cause alcoholic liver disease.


This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. The liver can usually repair itself and generate new cells. However, in advanced alcoholic liver disease, liver regeneration is impaired, resulting in permanent damage to the liver.

You’re likely to have ARLD if your AST level is two times higher than your ALT level. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, this finding is present in over 80 percent of ARLD patients. Getting adequate proteins, calories, and nutrients can alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life, and decrease mortality. ALD that has progressed can affect other parts of the body. Esophageal varices are enlarged veins in the esophagus.

  1. Liver disease is just one of the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.
  2. This can be an outcome of advanced-stage liver disease and often means that a liver transplant is the only option for prolonged survival.
  3. Having hepatitis C or other liver diseases with heavy alcohol use can rapidly increase the development of cirrhosis.
  4. Early treatment can reverse alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  5. This article explores the early signs and symptoms of alcoholic liver disease, its stages, causes, risk factors, treatments, and prevention.

Some may experience mild pain in the upper right side of the abdomen. Alcoholic liver disease often begins without any symptoms. In these cases, treatment focuses on preventing further damage and treating other factors that can make the disease worse, such as infection and malnourishment. The prognosis for liver failure is poor and requires immediate treatment, often in the intensive care unit. The guidelines classify moderate drinking up to one drink a day for females, and up to two drinks for males, and only over the age of 21 years.

Medications and lifestyle modifications may also be prescribed depending on the stage. For patients with severe alcohol-related hepatitis or severe alcohol-related cirrhosis who aren’t helped by other therapies, liver transplantation may be an option. During a liver transplantation, a surgeon replaces the patient’s damaged liver with all or part of a healthy liver from a deceased or a living donor. For people who have alcohol-related fatty liver disease, abstaining from alcohol is the principal—and usually only—treatment. Usually at this stage of liver disease, damage to liver can be reversed only if alcohol consumption stopped.

Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to dangerous damage called alcoholic liver disease. Alcoholic liver disease usually occurs after years of drinking too much. The longer you’ve abused alcohol, and the more alcohol you’ve consumed, the greater likelihood you will develop liver disease. Alcohol may cause swelling and inflammation in your liver, or something called hepatitis.

People with alcoholic hepatitis tend to be malnourished. Drinking large amounts of alcohol keeps people from being hungry. And heavy drinkers get most of their calories from alcohol. Treatments can reverse some forms of liver disease, but alcohol-related cirrhosis usually can’t be reversed. However, a doctor can recommend treatments that may slow the disease’s progression and reduce symptoms.

What are the symptoms of alcohol-associated liver disease?

On average, 1 in 3 people with the most advanced stage of liver disease and cirrhosis are still alive after 2 years. When the body can compensate and manage cirrhosis, the typical lifespan is 6–12 years. Those with less severe diseases will survive longer if they abstain from alcohol.

Not smoking and controlling body weight are significant lifestyle changes people can make to further reduce the risk. As the liver no longer processes toxins properly, a person will be more sensitive to medications and alcohol. Alcohol use speeds up the liver’s destruction, reducing the liver’s ability to compensate for the current damage. Most people with this condition have had at least seven drinks a day for 20 years or more.

What is unique about Yale Medicine’s approach to alcohol-related liver disease?

The provider can counsel you about how much alcohol is safe for you.

After stopping drinking, which is the first step in any treatment of ALD, an assessment will be made as to the extent of the damage and the overall state of the body. Treatment also consists of evaluation for other risk factors that can damage the liver or put the liver at higher risk, such as infection with hepatitis C and metabolic syndrome. However, if the person drinks alcohol again heavily, the fatty deposits will reappear.