Alcoholic Hepatitis: Signs, Risks, and Treatment

By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited: November 12, 2020 | 4 Sources


A life-threatening condition commonly caused by excessive and prolonged consumption of alcohol

Alcoholic hepatitis refers to the inflammation of the liver brought about by drinking alcohol. It is likewise worsened by binge drinking as well as continuous alcohol use. Though largely more likely to occur in people who have been drinking regularly and heavily over several years, the link between drinking and alcohol-induced hepatitis is more complex than most think.

Only a minority of drinkers develop the disease and the disease has also been shown to exist in people who only drink moderately.

Alcoholic Hepatitis Symptoms

While the milder forms of the disease may not produce any noticeable symptoms, the more damaged the liver gets, the more signs and symptoms will develop.

Among which may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and tenderness
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Fever
  • Abdominal swelling due to fluid accumulation (ascites)
  • Mental confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Tiny, red spider-like blood vessels seen on the skin
Alcohol-induced hepatitis occurs when the liver has been damaged by the alcohol ingested.

While how alcohol damages the liver (and for that matter only does so in a minority of heavy drinkers) is not clear at this point.

What is known, however, is that the process of breaking down alcohol in the body produces highly toxic chemicals, such as acetaldehyde, that trigger inflammation which destroys liver cells.

alcoholic liver disease Over a period of time, web-shaped scars and collections of tissue replace the healthy liver tissue, inhibiting the liver from doing its job. This scarring is irreversible and is the final stage of alcoholic liver disease.

As mentioned, heavy alcohol usage can lead to liver disease.

However, there are many other factors that may play a role in deciding who contracts the disease, in addition to heavy alcohol consumption.

Other Risk Factors

  • GeneticsMutations in certain genes can negatively effect how the body metabolizes alcohol. This may increase the risk of contracting alcohol liver diseases such as alcohol induced hepatitis, as well as a whole host of other alcohol-related diseases.
  • Other types of hepatitis - Other forms of hepatitis, especially hepatitis C, has been found to worsen the damage done by long-term alcohol abuse in sufferers of alcoholic hepatitis. Even moderate drinkers have been found to have come down with alcoholic hepatitis as a result of having another form of hepatitis prevalent in their bodies.
  • Nutrition levels – Many people who abuse alcohol are malnourished. Either because they often replace food with alcohol, or because alcohol prevents the body from properly metabolizing proteins, vitamins and fats. Either way, liver cell damage may be caused by a lack of nutrients to the liver.
  • Sex – Gender has been identified as a factor in those who contract alcoholic cirrhosis. Women have been found to have an inherently higher risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis than men do, due to the fact that they metabolize alcohol at a much slower rate than men do.

Alcoholic Hepatitis Treatment

    As the damage worsens, and particularly for individuals who have already developed cirrhosis, the prognosis eventually becomes bleak. A lot of people die in just months of their diagnosis.

    Nonetheless, if alcoholic hepatitis is detected early, it might be possible to have significant improvement.

    There is no cure for alcoholic hepatitis – and extensive, permanent scarring cannot be reversed. Instead, treatment tries to avoid further damage.

    It’s as simple as that. It's the only way to reverse liver damage or, in worse scenarios, to prevent the disease from becoming worse than it already is. If you continue to drink alcohol, you're likely to experience serious complications. Should alcohol dependency be an obstacle to the treatment of potentially life-threatening liver disease, doctors may recommend therapy that’s tailored to individual needs. Such therapy may include medication, counseling, support groups, and/or treatment programs.
    Nutritional deficiencies may be reversed with medical help. Doctors may prescribe a specific diet to reverse such deficiencies. Dietitian consultancies may also be helpful in assessing current diet trends, and rectifying them, ensuring that sufferers get all the nutrients they need. Tube feeding may be recommended as a more serious measure should victims have trouble eating. This will involve having a tube passed down the throat into the stomach to directly feed the stomach a special nutrient-rich liquid diet.
    Liver inflammation may be combated with short-term treatment. Drugs that help control said inflammation are readily available in the market and individuals with severe alcoholic hepatitis may be prescribed such treatment- corticosteroids or pentoxifylline, to answer any immediate need.
    Should the liver be severely impaired, what remains as a sole option for some sufferers is a liver transplant. Although liver transplants are often successful, the chance of being first in line for a donor liver that matches your body (or your body may reject the liver) is often a period that takes several years.

    Also, some hospitals and medical centers are reluctant to perform liver transplants on people who have a history of alcoholism (despite the Hippocratic Oath) due to their belief that a large number of successful transplant patients will return to their drinking habits post-transplant. As such, requisites to qualify for a transplant are stringent.

    These include abstinence from alcohol for at least a six-month period leading up to the date of the surgery and enrollment in a counseling program.

Should you, or anyone that you know, contract the signs of alcoholic hepatitis, or even if you feel that you may have a drinking problem that may result in the eventuality of you contracting this disease, do see a doctor, and contact a treatment provider today to take immediate action.

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


Mayo Clinic. Alcoholic hepatitis. October 27, 2020.

Healthline. Alcoholic Hepatitis. November 3, 2017.

Medline Plus. Alcoholic liver disease.

U.S. News. Symptoms of Alcoholic Hepatitis. February 18, 2020.

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:

Return from Alcoholic Hepatitis to Alcohol Abuse Effects 

Return from Alcoholic Hepatitis to Alcoholism Help Homepage

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