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  • Alcoholic cirrhosis is a serious form of alcohol-related liver disease or ALD. It is a severe form of liver damage where scar tissue surrounds the liver.

    Cirrhosis is often caused by heavy drinking over long periods of time. It can progress into life-threatening liver failure and forms of liver cancer if left untreated.

    Data from 2009 reported about 15,000 U.S. deaths from alcoholic cirrhosis. Treatment options are out there, but many patients have a poor health outlook due to the amount of liver damage already accrued.

    Signs Of Alcoholic Cirrhosis

    Alcoholic cirrhosis has two main stages known as compensated and decompensated stages. These stages share some common side effects, such as:

    • jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
    • weight loss or weight gain
    • chronic abdominal pain
    Sign Of Jaundice

    Alcoholic cirrhosis can be detected with a liver biopsy, but most people do not get biopsies regularly. Some patients may not show symptoms of liver damage at all. If you or a loved one drinks alcohol regularly, you may want to look out for the serious health effects.

    Compensated Stage

    During compensated alcoholic cirrhosis, part of the liver is still healthy. Liver function can still be effective, but side effects may still be felt.

    Unique side effects during this stage include muscle cramps, loss of sexual drive, and anorexia. These problems may only get worse if drinking continues.

    Decompensated Stage

    If alcohol use continues, compensated cirrhosis can become decompensated cirrhosis. During the decompensated stage, healthy liver tissue is entirely replaced with scar tissue. Liver failure likely follows.

    Acute liver failure can lead to portal hypertension, gastrointestinal (stomach or esophagus) bleeding, and ascites (buildup of fluid in the belly). All of these can be life-threatening.

    How Excessive Alcohol Consumption Leads To Liver Problems

    Alcohol’s main ingredient is ethanol, which is broken down by the liver. The process of alcohol breakdown is complex, involving many different types of liver cells (known as hepatocytes) and liver enzymes. Most healthy livers can break down moderate amounts of alcohol without issue.

    Heavy drinking over years or even decades can put high stress on the liver, and it can eventually become unable to keep up with the high alcohol intake. This can lead to fat buildup in the liver, which can progress into alcoholic cirrhosis and many other liver problems.

    Avoiding heavy drinking can reduce your risk of alcoholic cirrhosis.

    Forms Of Alcoholic Liver Disease

    Alcoholic cirrhosis is an advanced, or end-stage liver disease. It usually starts as a less dangerous form of liver damage. Early stages of ALD can progress into cirrhosis of the liver if left untreated.

    Liver problems caused by alcohol may start with alcoholic steatosis, where fat builds up in the liver. Also known as fatty liver disease, steatosis is reversible if drinking stops.

    If alcohol use continues, steatosis can progress into:

    • alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation or enlargement of the liver)
    • fibrosis
    • cirrhosis
    • hepatitis C infections
    • acute liver failure
    • hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer)

    Treatment For Alcoholic Liver Disease

    Treatments for alcoholic liver cirrhosis are limited. Only about 10 to 20 percent of ALD patients end up with liver cirrhosis. However, it can be difficult to undo the amount of liver damage caused at this stage.

    Quitting Alcohol

    Stopping alcohol use can reduce symptoms of liver cirrhosis. 

    Staying sober after constant drinking can be difficult, so treatments for liver cirrhosis often involve supervision from medical professionals. Various forms of therapy may also be given.

    Vitamins & Minerals​​​

    Malnutrition can make alcohol cirrhosis worse. It can also increase the chances of getting alcoholic cirrhosis. Increasing protein and zinc intake in patients with liver cirrhosis has shown some promise.

    More research may be needed to prove how effective these supplements can be, and if they can be used to prevent ALD in the first place.

    Liver Transplants

    Liver transplantation is an effective way to treat liver cirrhosis. The survival rate in patients with cirrhosis who get a transplant is much higher compared to patients who do not.

    However, many patients with ALD do not end up getting a liver transplant. Patients who cannot stop drinking are usually not eligible for a transplant, and the waiting period can take several months.

    Treating Alcohol-Related Health Problems

    Cirrhosis is one of the most severe forms of chronic liver disease, and alcohol abuse causes about half of all deaths related to liver cirrhosis. Treating ALD in its early stages often leads to a higher chance of recovery, though it can be difficult to spot before it is too late.

    If you’ve been a heavy drinker for a long time, it can be difficult to stop. Even patients who are already diagnosed with ALD may continue drinking. Treatments for ALD often include support networks and forms of therapy.

    To find the best treatment for alcohol abuse, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on June 30, 2022
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