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Updated on August 1, 2023
7 min read

What are the Early Signs of Liver Damage from Alcohol?

Do you enjoy an occasional glass of wine or drink at social gatherings? While moderate alcohol consumption may not hurt, indulging in it too often leads to health risks.

Among other problems, excessive drinking can affect your liver and even cause serious damage. Whether you’re a regular beer drinker or the type who indulges in spirits on the weekends, it’s important to know how far is too far when it comes to drinking.

This blog post discusses the early signs of liver damage from alcohol that should raise red flags for drinkers. With careful monitoring and awareness, you can prevent these consequences before they become health-threatening.

Connection Between Alcohol & Liver Damage 

While moderate alcohol use doesn’t typically affect liver function, chronic alcohol use can lead to liver damage and alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD). This is also known as alcoholic liver disease. 

Not all liver damage is due to alcohol use. In fact, there are over 100 types of liver disease out there.9 The other causes of liver damage include:9

  • Genetics
  • Poor diet
  • Obesity
  • Viruses
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Medication reactions
  • Drugs
  • Toxic chemicals

If you have alcohol-related liver damage, you should stop drinking.11 Alcohol is one of the most common causes of liver cirrhosis. It’s second only to hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, contributing to about a quarter of cases of liver cirrhosis.1


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The Risk and Prevalence of Alcohol-Related Liver Damage

Alcohol-related liver damage refers to liver complications that arise as a result of alcohol use. Nearly all men who consume four drinks per day, and all women who consume about two drinks per day, show evidence of liver damage. However, less than half will develop a serious form of liver disease.4

People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are at a higher risk of developing liver damage. AUD refers to a pattern of drinking that causes the drinker distress or harm, which may be either mild or severe.10

Men are more likely to develop alcoholic-related liver damage than women. But women may develop liver damage with less exposure to alcohol than men.5

10 Early Signs of Liver Damage From Alcohol 

There are some early symptoms of liver damage to keep in mind. While alcoholic liver disease may be asymptomatic, severe liver disease may lead to portal hypertension, jaundice, and brain disease (encephalopathy).

The most common early signs of liver damage from alcohol include:

  1. Digestive tract symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  2. Abdominal pain
  3. Loss of appetite
  4. Low energy levels
  5. Intense hangovers
  6. Trouble sleeping
  7. Strong effects of caffeine
  8. Severe reactions to medications
  9. Skin issues
  10. Weight loss

As liver damage progresses through the three stages below, these symptoms of liver disease will likely worsen. New symptoms like yellowing of the skin may also start to occur.


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What are the Stages of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease?

There are three stages of alcohol-related liver disease, which increase in severity over time:

1. Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Alcoholic fatty liver disease is when excess fat builds up in the liver due to heavy alcohol use. Fatty liver disease is the first phase and is still treatable.1

This condition is also known as hepatic steatosis.8 ​​Almost everyone who drinks heavily develops fatty liver disease at some point. The symptoms of alcoholic liver disease include:

  • Feeling sick with or without fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Confusion
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Vomiting blood
  • Passing blood in stool 
  • Jaundice

2. Alcoholic Hepatitis/Liver Fibrosis 

Alcoholic hepatitis/liver fibrosis is the second stage of alcohol-related liver disease. It happens when the cells in the liver become inflamed.1 This can last for years and progressively get worse over time. It may even become life-threatening.

The symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • Inflammation of the liver
  • Swelling of the liver
  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal tenderness

3. Alcoholic Cirrhosis of the Liver

Alcoholic cirrhosis is the final stage of alcohol-related liver damage. Alcoholic cirrhosis happens when scar tissue takes over normal liver tissue. This is the most intense stage of alcoholic liver disease.

Somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of people who drink heavily develop alcoholic cirrhosis. This generally happens after about 10 or more years of drinking alcohol.

Unfortunately, if liver damage reaches this stage, it may not be reversible. The symptoms of alcoholic cirrhosis include: 

  • Behavioral changes
  • Confusion
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen (also known as ascites)
  • High blood pressure in the liver (also known as portal hypertension)
  • Bleeding from esophagus’ veins (also known as esophageal varices)

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How is Alcohol-Related Liver Damage Diagnosed?

A few types of liver function test can diagnose alcohol-related liver damage. For example, your doctor may administer a blood test to help determine liver health and function.6 Imaging tests like an ultrasound, CT, and MRI scan can also look at liver scarring.6

Your doctor may also do a liver biopsy to take a sample of the liver cells and send them to a laboratory for testing. They may also perform an endoscopy, which refers to passing a camera down through your esophagus and into your stomach.6

Treatment Options for Liver Damage

The course of treatment heavily relies on your medical practitioner’s recommendations, which might include the following measures:

  • Abstinence from Alcohol: If your liver damage is traced back to alcohol use, your doctor’s foremost advice would be to stop drinking.3 This primary step can help halt further damage to your liver.
  • Dietary Adjustments and Vaccinations: Alongside advocating for a no-alcohol policy, your healthcare provider may put you on a low-salt, healthy diet. They may also recommend getting vaccinated for influenza, hepatitis A and B, and pneumococcal pneumonia.3
  • Medication Regime: Your doctor may put you on include diuretics or “water pills” to rid your body of vitamin K buildup and medications to prevent excess bleeding. Drugs for mental fog and antibiotics for infections may also be necessary.3
  • Endoscopic Procedures: Your doctor may recommend endoscopic treatments for more severe liver damage, such as the development of enlarged veins in the esophagus.
  • Advanced Therapies: Possible treatments include abdominal fluid removal (paracentesis) or the placement of a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS), which repairs liver blood flow.3

If damage is too far done, a liver transplant may be necessary. Seek professional medical advice to determine which treatment option is best for you.

Can Early Liver Damage be Reversed?

Fortunately, early liver damage may be reversible. Your liver can repair itself and regenerate over time.9

If you don’t detect alcoholic-related liver damage early, it can cause permanent issues. This can lead to more health complications later on. 

For example, cirrhosis can lead to kidney problems and cause intestinal bleeding, fluid buildup in the belly, and severe infections. About 50 percent of people with cirrhosis also have gallstones.2 Liver damage can also lead to liver failure or liver cancer, which are life-threatening conditions.9

Acknowledging Alcohol Misuse & Addiction: You’re Not Alone

If you or someone you know is struggling with binge drinking, alcohol misuse, or addiction, speak with an addiction specialist today. Help is available.

First, know that you’re not alone. More than 29.5 million Americans 12 years old and above suffer from AUD.10 And many of them don’t seek treatment.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction

Treatment comes in various forms. For example, you may visit a therapist to talk about the triggers that drive you to drink. Other types of treatment include family counseling, marital counseling, and behavioral therapy.10

You may also choose to take medications that help assist the process. Currently, these drugs in the U.S. help people with alcohol addiction stop or cut back on their drinking and prevent relapse:

  • Naltrexone, which helps people reduce drinking 
  • Acamprosate, which should aid in abstinence
  • Disulfiram, which blocks the body’s breakdown of alcohol, which can cause undesirable symptoms that, ideally, discourage drinking10

Alternatively, support groups exist to support you along the road to recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous is just one example.10


Alcohol-related liver damage is dangerous and can be life-threatening. It’s important to recognize its early signs and seek medical attention immediately.

As with any addiction, it’s key to first acknowledge the issue before committing to a road of recovery. Various treatments are available— from medications to support groups —so you or your loved one can get the help they need.

Remember that the earlier you acknowledge and start treatment, the better it is for your future health. Don’t delay getting help. Reach out to your doctor or an addiction specialist today to regain control of your life and health.

Updated on August 1, 2023
13 sources cited
Updated on August 1, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol-Related Liver Disease.” American Liver Foundation, 2023.

  2. Alcoholic Liver Disease.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d.

  3. Alcoholic Liver Disease.” Mount Sinai Health System, n.d.

  4. Alcoholic Liver Disease: Introduction.” Hopkins Medicine, 2013.

  5. MedlinePlus. “Alcoholic Liver Disease U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2021.

  6. “Diagnosis Alcohol-related liver disease.” UK National Health Service, 2022.

  7. Osna et al. “Alcoholic Liver Disease: Pathogenesis and Current Management.” Alcohol Research, 2017.

  8. Patel et al. “Alcoholic Liver Disease.” StatPearls [Internet], 2022. 

  9. How Liver Diseases Progress.” American Liver Foundation, 2023.

  10. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2022.

  11. Treatment for Cirrhosis.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2018.

  12. “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States: Age Groups and Demographic Characteristics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.


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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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