The liver has a remarkable ability to repair itself when damaged, but
damage can occur if this mechanism is overwhelmed. Excessive exposure to
alcohol is a major cause of liver damage.
The term alcoholic liver disease refers to a spectrum of liver
disease caused by excessive alcohol consumption. With heavy alcohol use,
fat can accumulate in the liver (fatty liver disease) and cause
inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), damage, and eventually cirrhosis.
Alcoholic liver disease accounts for about half of all deaths caused by
Abnormal liver function tests may be the first clue to the presence of
liver damage from alcohol. The diagnosis is further suspected based on a
history of heavy alcohol use, although tests are needed to exclude other
causes of liver damage. Patients with confirmed alcoholic liver disease
may undergo additional testing to look for complications or other organ
damage. A liver biopsy is occasionally performed, mainly to help guide
The primary treatment is to stop all alcohol intake, which is the most
effective way to prevent further liver injury. Strict abstinence has
been shown to decrease progression to cirrhosis and to improve survival
in people with all stages of alcoholic liver disease. Patients are
referred to addiction counselors for help with achieving abstinence.
Other components of treatment may include:
A short course of medications if liver disease is severe
Referral to nutritional specialists for assessment for
nutritional deficiencies, with supplementation as needed
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.