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)

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)

 

When to get help for alcoholic liver disease

If you are concerned you may be at risk from ALD, a short test - called the CAGE test - may help you assess your risk.

Ask yourself 4 questions:

  • Have you ever thought you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticising your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever drunk an eye-opener’, which means, have you ever drunk alcohol first thing in the morning to get over a hangover and steady your nerves?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, seek medical advice as you may have an alcohol problem.

WebMD Medical Reference

Mind, body & soul newsletter

Looking after your
health and wellbeing.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

man holding back
Myths & facts about back pain
hands grabbing knee
How to keep your joints healthy
bowl of soup
Small changes that lead to weight loss
cute baby
Simple tips to keep baby's skin healthy
cute dog
10 common allergy triggers
79x79_hairloss_in_women.jpg
Do you know what causes hair loss?
woman exercising
Exercises for low back pain
sperm and egg
Facts to help you get pregnant
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning for a healthy home
rash on skin
Soothe skin and prevent flare-ups
mother and child
Could your baby be allergic to milk?
pregnant woman eating healthy salad
Nutrition needs before pregnancy