Alcoholic Liver Disease: Symptoms and Causes

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : November 11, 
| 4 Sources

Identifying Alcohol Liver Damage Symptoms
Treatment For Alcohol Liver Damage

If you, or someone you care about abuses alcohol then it is only natural to worry about the serious effects of alcohol on the liver, like alcoholic liver disease. The liver is the largest organ in the body (unless you call the skin an organ). It also endures the heaviest degree of tissue damage by excessive drinking because it is the key site of ethanol metabolism.

It also carries out many functions, without which the human body could not survive.

When we talk about alcohol and liver damage, we mean alcohol is hampering or preventing it from carrying out the important functions listed below.

The Functions of the Liver

Some of the liver's functions include:

  • processing digested food from the intestine
  • controlling levels of fats, amino acids and glucose in the blood
  • combating infections in the body
  • clearing the blood of particles and infections including bacteria
  • neutralizing and destroying drugs and toxins
  • manufacturing bile
  • storing iron, vitamins and other essential chemicals
  • breaking down food and turning it into energy
  • manufacturing and breaking down
  • making enzymes and proteins which are responsible for most chemical reactions in the body, for example those involved in blood clotting and repair of damaged tissues are crucial to the well-being and health of a human body.

What is Alcoholic Liver Disease?

Alcoholic liver disease is the outcome of drinking more alcohol than one’s liver could process, which eventually impairs the organ. The liver, in charge for performing many bodily functions, processes what the body needs and discards what it does not. As the liver processes the alcohol in the body, the chemical reaction then releases a toxin, which impairs liver cells.

If excessive alcohol is consumed regularly over time, even without getting intoxicated, liver damage starts. When severe liver damage happens, it affects the whole body. Alcoholic liver disease can be life-threatening, but it is preventable.

Symptoms of Alcoholic Liver Disease
Liver Damage from Alcohol is Progressive

More often than not, the first stage of alcoholic liver disease involves fatty liver. Also known as alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Often symptom-less, alcoholic fatty liver disease largely refers to the enlargement of the liver, and is generally painless.

This is also the most reversible stage of alcoholic liver disease. In other words, if you reach this stage and then stop drinking, it is more than likely that your liver will recover.

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Progression from the alcoholic fatty liver disease can lead to the very painful, cirrhosis of the liver.

This is a more advanced form of liver disease that results in the liver becoming scarred, hardened and shrinking due to excessive alcohol consumption.

Another form of progression from fatty liver is alcoholic hepatitis, which is an inflammation of and, ultimately, death of liver organ tissue. Alcoholic hepatitis tends to occur in people who drink excessively over a prolonged period.

Alcoholic liver cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis are not mutually exclusive, and both conditions may occur at the same time in the same person.

Alcohol and Liver Disease
Reduced Liver Functions

As stated above, alcoholic fatty liver disease is generally symptom-less and less serious than more advance alcohol liver damage.

However, There may be little to no symptoms of advanced liver disease in some unfortunate cases, which may severely delay diagnosis of the conditions until it is too late.

Alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and/or alcoholic hepatitis will render the liver unable to...

  • effectively carry out its task to help the body stop bleeding
  • cleanse the blood of toxins
  • store energy
  • fight infections
  • produce healthy blood
  • digest food
  • remove waste

Alcoholic Liver Disease Causes

Alcoholic liver disease or ALD happens after years of excessive drinking. Over time, cirrhosis of the liver can happen. Cirrhosis is the last phase of alcoholic liver disease.

ALD, however, does not happen to all heavy drinkers. The odds of getting alcoholic liver disease increase the longer you’ve been drinking and more alcohol you drink. 

This disease is common in individuals between 40 to 50 years of age. Men are more likely to have this issue. Nonetheless, women may likewise develop alcoholic liver disease even with less exposure to alcohol than guys. Some individuals may have an innate risk for ALD.

Alcohol and Liver Disease
Advanced Alcohol Liver Damage Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • jaundice (the yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • poor appetite
  • fatigue
  • weight loss and general weakness, which may be followed by acute pain in the right upper region of the abdomen.
  • bleeding problems
  • easy bruising
  • accumulation of extra fluid in the legs, known as edema.
  • Blood pressure may rise in the abdomen, resulting in high blood pressure in the veins leading to the liver, often causing enlargement of the spleen and veins. These veins could burst, leading to internal hemorrhage - a life-threatening condition.
  • The inability of the sufferer of an advanced liver disease to filter toxins from the blood can cause toxins to travel to the brain leading to hepatic encephalopathy. Symptoms of which include confusion, drastic personality changes in sufferers and poor cognitive functioning.
  • Frequent infections
  • Complete liver and kidney failure, which may be fatal.
  • Additionally, individuals with advanced alcoholic diseases are at an extremely high risk of developing liver cancer.

It doesn't make for pretty reading, and treatment for advanced alcoholic liver disease is somewhat limited. However, in all cases of alcohol induced liver damage, it is essential that the sufferer quits drinking IMMEDIATELY.

For more on this topic and alcoholic liver disease treatment, read alcoholic cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis.

It’s Never Too Late to Stop Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a terrible disease which can destroy your liver and other organs. If you or someone close to you has chronic liver problems, it's important that they get help immediately before things worsen. The first step towards ending alcoholism begins with calling up for treatment today! Reach out to a treatment provider.

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

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

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