Alcohol and the Liver - North Jersey Recovery Center - A bottle of alcohol and a glass sit on a table. IN the background slightly blurred is a man sitting in the couch worried that his alcoholism has damaged his liver.

What is the Relationship Between Alcohol and Liver Damage?

Is there truly a link between alcohol and liver damage? Alcohol abuse, and even seemingly moderate alcohol use, can have serious health effects.

The liver is one specific part of the body that can be impacted by alcohol, but certainly not the only one.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver?

Several types of liver disease are caused by alcohol. These are:

  • Steatosis (also known as fatty liver)
  • Inflammation of the liver (hepatitis)
  • Acute alcoholic hepatitis
  • Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis)
  • Liver failure and death

Your liver is a complex, essential organ.

It plays a role in filtering toxins from your blood, regulating blood sugar, and combating disease and infection.

Your liver is resilient, but each time it filters alcohol, some of the cells die.

While the liver may develop new cells to replace the ones that die, excessive alcohol use can impact how the liver can regenerate.

Alcohol and the Liver - North Jersey Recovery - A woman sits and stars at her glass of red wine.

How Does the Body Process Alcohol?

Understanding some of the links between the liver and alcohol comes from understanding how the body processes alcohol.

When you drink, around 20% of the alcohol you consume is absorbed through your stomach.

Then the remaining 80% is absorbed by the small intestine.

The liver metabolizes alcohol.

Enzymes in the liver break it down, explaining some of the alcohol effects on liver health.

Your liver, in general, can process around one standard drink an hour. If you drink more than that, your system cannot handle it. The extra alcohol builds up in your body until it can be metabolized.

Chronic alcohol abuse destroys liver cells. If you combine medications with alcohol, it can be even more damaging to your liver. For example, if you take acetaminophen with alcohol, it can lead to acute liver failure or death.

Symptoms of Liver Disease

Around 20% of heavy drinkers develop fatty liver disease, and that is just one common condition. The longer and the more someone drinks, the more likely liver side effects will be present.

If you have an infection or family members with liver problems, you are at an even greater risk.

Symptoms that could indicate the alcohol effects on liver health are causing harm, including:

  • Jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Abdominal swelling or pain
  • Swelling in the ankles or legs
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Discolored stool
  • Easily bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Disorientation
  • Weakness
  • Bloody stool
  • Loss of appetite

Alcohol and Liver Disease: What to Know

The following are more details about specific conditions that can stem from alcohol effects on the liver.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

If you drink a lot of alcohol, fats build up in the liver even for a short period of time. This is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease, called alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Most people do not experience symptoms. You may find out you have alcoholic fatty liver disease if you get a scan for another condition, for example. Fatty liver disease is reversible.

If you stop drinking for some time, it should go away.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is not the same as infectious hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis can stem from chronic alcohol abuse or binge drinking.

If you have mild alcoholic hepatitis, you can reverse the condition if you stop drinking, but it must be permanent. If you have severe alcoholic hepatitis, it may not be reversible. It can be a deadly disease.

There is also acute alcoholic hepatitis, which is a more severe type of liver inflammation. Around one in three people with severe alcoholic hepatitis die. Symptoms include sickness, loss of appetite, and liver failure.


Cirrhosis is a stage where your liver is scarred, and often significantly so. Cirrhosis is not typically reversible, but avoiding alcohol can prevent more damage from occurring.

If you have cirrhosis related to alcohol and do not stop drinking, you have less than a 50% likelihood of living for five more years. Many people with cirrhosis do not have symptoms.

Alcohol and the Liver - North Jersey Recovery Center - A man checks his eyes for discoloration. He is worried that his alcoholism has damaged his liver.

Reducing the Risk of Liver Disease

When you see the answer to “how does alcohol affect the liver?” it becomes more apparent that it is serious. The best thing you can do is reduce or eliminate alcohol. Giving up alcohol will likely help your liver function and health.

You can also do other things that are good for your health if you have liver problems. Maintaining a healthy weight, having a diet low in processed foods, and regularly exercising are all good for your liver health.

What if You Cannot Stop Drinking?

When it comes to the health of your liver and alcohol’s effects, you may feel like you want to stop drinking, but you are unable to. This means you could have an alcohol addiction.

Fortunately, help and treatment are available. The North Jersey Recovery Center offers a variety of personalized alcohol addiction treatment programs that cannot just help you stop drinking but improve your mental and physical well-being.

Medical Detox

If you are addicted to alcohol, the first step in a recommended treatment program might be a medical detox. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable or even deadly.

During medical detox, a clinical team helps you stay safe and provides any medical interventions necessary. Medical detox can lower the risk of relapse and help you move forward in your treatment.

Inpatient Treatment

Once someone has fully detoxed from alcohol and any other symptoms, they can begin addiction treatment. Detox is an important step but is not in and of itself an addiction treatment program.

Inpatient treatment is a residential program. You are in a supportive environment, and you can focus entirely on your treatment program. Many people find a safe environment helps them in the early days of recovery.

Outpatient Treatment

Another type of treatment for alcohol addiction and dependence is outpatient rehab. Outpatient rehab means you can return home in the evening after treatment.

How much time you dedicate to the treatment program depends on the specifics. For example, in an intensive outpatient program, you might be in treatment throughout the day most of the week.

There are also much less intensive outpatient programs. Some people begin with inpatient rehab, and when they are ready, start outpatient treatment.

Relapse Prevention

Part of a personalized treatment plan should always be relapse prevention.

A relapse prevention plan will be tailored to your needs.

It may include regular check-ins for medication management or individual therapy.

Your relapse prevention plan might also include participation in a 12-step program or another type of support group.

Be Careful with Alcohol and Liver Health

The effects of alcohol on your liver are just one thing to be aware of.

Alcohol effects on liver health can range from reversible, such as inflammation, to irreversible, severe, and deadly conditions.

If you are having trouble not drinking on your own, North Jersey Recovery Center is here to help.

Our team can verify your insurance and work with you to determine the treatment path that is right for you.

We are located near enough to Manhattan to be convenient, but you will also find a peaceful, private reprieve.

Contact the North Jersey Recovery Center to learn more today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.