Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Alcohol abuse health centre

Alcoholic liver disease (ALD)

Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) refers to a range of conditions and associated symptoms that develop when the liver is damaged by the overuse of alcohol.

Men who regularly drink more than 8 units of alcohol a day (50 units a week) and women who regularly drink more than 6 units of alcohol a day (over 35 units a week) are at the highest risk of significant liver damage.

Causes of alcoholic liver disease

When alcohol is filtered through the liver, it causes some liver cells to die. While the liver is very hardy and able to regenerate itself, you can seriously damage your liver in two ways:

  • Binge drinking - when a large amount of alcohol is consumed in a short time
  • Long term drinking - when more than the recommended limits of alcohol are consumed over a long period of time

Symptoms of alcoholic liver disease

Symptoms of alcoholic liver disease don’t usually appear until significant damage has been done to the liver. They include:

Diagnosis of alcoholic liver disease

Your GP may diagnose ALD by arranging liver function blood tests - to check liver enzyme levels and levels of serum albumin.

Treatment for alcoholic liver disease

If you are diagnosed with ALD, treatment will involve abstaining from drinking and making other lifestyle changes. Your GP may suggest you should:

  • Stop drinking for at least 2 weeks
  • Get support from a self help group such as Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Take abstinence medication such as Disulfiram which triggers unpleasant affects such as nausea and vomiting if you drink
  • Take withdrawal medicine such as Acamprosate
  • Make diet changes or start nutritional therapy (many alcoholics have a poor diet and malnourishment heightens the damaging effects of alcohol)

The use of certain medications to treat ALD by reducing inflammation in the liver is controversial as there is little clinical evidence to show it is effective.

Risk factors for alcoholic liver disease

Most people who abuse alcohol will develop ALD.

  • 1 in 4 people who develop ALD will go on to develop hepatitis.
  • 1 in 5 people who develop ALD will go on to develop cirrhosis.

Other alcohol related problems include liver cancer, heart disease and stroke.

A person's risk of alcoholic liver disease may be increased by:

  • Obesity
  • Eating a high fat diet
  • Being female (women are less able to metabolise alcohol than men)
  • Having a pre-existing liver condition (such as hepatitis)
  • Having a family history of alcohol abuse (hereditary factors may influence how much you drink or affect liver enzymes that break down alcohol)

WebMD Medical Reference

Mind, body & soul newsletter

Looking after your
health and wellbeing.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman looking at pregnancy test
Early pregnancy symptoms
donut on plate
The truth about sugar addiction
Put your best face forward
couple watching sunset
How much do you know?
woman in bikini
Get ready for swimsuit season
How to help tension headaches
assorted spices
Pump up the flavour with spices
bag of crisps
Food cravings that wreck your diet
woman with cucumbers on eyes
How to banish dark circles and bags
probiotic shakes
Help digestion
polka dot dress on hangar
Lose weight without dieting