Alcohol and liver disease


Long and hard drinking can result in developing liver disease. has provided great information about what alcohol can do to the liver.

 The liver is our largest internal organ and it has 500 different roles. One of the liver’s most important functions is to break down food and convert it into energy when you need it. Your liver also helps the body to get rid of waste products and plays a vital role in fighting infections, particularly in the bowel (1).

And yet, when your liver is damaged, you generally won’t know about it – until things get serious. Regularly drinking over the government’s lower risk guidelines can increase your risk of developing liver disease and cause irreparable damage to this very important part of your body.

Drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver in two main ways

Liver disease is the term used to describe damage to the liver and there are two types. Acute is when liver problems develop over a few months and chronic is damage over a number of years.

  1. Oxidative stress. When our liver tries to break down alcohol, the resulting chemical reaction  can damage its cells. This damage  can lead to inflammation and scarring as the liver tries to repair itself.
  2. Toxins in gut bacteria. Alcohol can damage our intestine which lets toxins from our gut bacteria get into the liver. These toxins can also lead to inflammation and scarring.


If you drink most days of the week, you will increase your risk of developing liver disease.

Evidence about how much and how often you need to drink to increase your chances of developing liver disease is unclear. But all the research shows that the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to develop liver disease.

  1. Men who drink more than 35 units of alcohol a week for 10 years or more
  2. Women who drink more than 28 units of alcohol a week for 10 years or more (4)
  • being dependent on alcohol around seven in 10 people with alcoholic liver disease have an alcohol dependency problem (5)
  • being female – this could be because women develop higher levels of alcohol in the blood than men even if they’ve drunk the same amount of alcohol (6)
  • being overweight – excess weight can exacerbate many of the mechanisms of liver damage caused by excessive drinking (7)
  • genetics – certain genetic factors, including those affecting the liver’s handling of fat, influence the risk of a heavy drinker developing liver disease.

Excessive drinking can make your liver get fat – reducing your consumption can help it return to its normal size

Drink more than eight units a day (four pints of 4% lager) if you’re a man and over five units a day (a couple of 175ml glasses of wine) if you’re a woman, for two or three weeks and you’re likely to develop something called ‘fatty liver’ (8).

The liver turns glucose into fat which it sends round the body to store for use when we need it. Alcohol affects the way the liver handles fat so your liver cells get stuffed full of it.

The good news: your liver will start shedding the excess fat if you stop drinking for two weeks and don’t exceed the lower risk guidelines after that. If you don’t change your drinking pattern, the bad news is that fatty liver is the first stage of liver disease.

The four stages of liver disease: Identifying the symptoms

People can spend 20 years damaging their liver and not feel any of the effects this is doing to them. This is because the liver has enormous reserves so that you can damage an awful lot of it and it can still do all of its jobs.

Early symptoms of liver disease can include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pains

Later stage liver damage symptoms are more serious – and you’ll know about them.


They can include:

  • jaundice (yellow skin)
  • vomiting blood
  • fatigue
  • weakness, loss of appetite
  • itching
  • easy bruising
  • swelling of the legs ankles, or abdomen
  • liver cancer
  • bleeding in the gut
  • increased sensitivity to alcohol and drugs, both medical and recreational (because the liver cannot process them) (9) (10)


If you start soon enough, you can reverse problems with your liver caused by alcohol

Reducing the amount you drink can help reverse damage, or early stage liver disease.

Once cirrhosis develops, prognosis partly depends on whether or not you continue drinking. Those who continue to drink have a much higher risk of dying. Even for those with symptoms, stopping drinking has a beneficial effect – it is never “too late” to stop drinking – even with cirrhosis.

Staying in control

1. Give alcohol-free days a go. If you drink regularly, your body starts to build up a tolerance to alcohol. Many medical experts recommend taking regular days off from drinking to ensure you don’t become addicted to alcohol. Test out having a break for yourself and see what positive results you notice.

2. Eat well. A healthy meal before you start drinking, and low-fat, low-salt snacks between drinks can help to slow down the absorption of alcohol. Good nutrition can help to support your liver to function and plays a crucial role in your health (12).

3. Keep track of what you’re drinking. Your liver can’t tell you if you’re drinking too much, but the MyDrinkaware drink tracking tool can. It can even help you cut down.


Read more here.

Start caring about your liver, because liver disease can have a really negative effect on the body. If you are suffering from alcohol addiction, please contact Bridgeway Behavioral Health by visiting or calling 866-758-1152.

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