Alcoholic liver disease is damage to the liver and its function due to alcohol abuse.
Liver disease due to alcohol; Cirrhosis or hepatitis - alcoholic; Laennec's cirrhosis
Alcoholic liver disease occurs after years of heavy drinking. Alcohol can cause inflammation in the liver. Over time, scarring and cirrhosis can occur. Cirrhosis is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.
Alcoholic liver disease does not occur in all heavy drinkers. The chances of getting liver disease go up the longer you have been drinking and more alcohol you consume. You do not have to get drunk for the disease to happen.
The disease seems to be more common in some families. Women may be more likely to have this problem than men.
Symptoms vary, based on how bad the disease is. You may not have symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms tend to be worse after a period of heavy drinking.
Digestive symptoms include:
Pain and swelling in the abdomen
Decreased appetite and weight loss
Nausea and vomiting
Dry mouth and increased thirst
Bleeding from enlarged veins in the walls of the lower part of the esophagus (tube that connects your throat to your stomach)
Skin problems such as:
Yellow color in the skin, mucus membranes, or eyes (jaundice)
Continued excessive drinking can shorten your lifespan. Your risk for complications such as bleeding, brain changes, and severe liver damage go up. The outcome will likely be poor if you keep drinking.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
You develop symptoms of alcoholic liver disease.
You develop symptoms after a long period of heavy drinking.
You are worried that drinking may be harming your health.
Talk to your doctor about your alcohol intake. The doctor can counsel you about how much alcohol is safe for you.
O’Shea RS, Dasarathy S, McCullough AJ et al. AASLD Practice Guidelines: Alcoholic liver disease. HEPATOLOGY. 2010;51(1).
Carithers RL, McClain C. Alcoholic liver disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ. Feldman: Sleisinger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 84.
Garcia-Tsao G, Lim JK; Members of Veterans Affairs Hepatitis C Resource Center Program. Management and treatment of patients with cirrhosis and portal hypertension: recommendations from the Department of Veterans Affairs Hepatitis C Resource Center Program and the National Hepatitis C Program. Am J Gastroenterol. 2009;104:1802-1829.
Garcia-Tsao G. Cirrhosis and its sequelae. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 156.
George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.