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Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis | Signs & Symptoms

Published on September 1, 2021
Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis | Signs & Symptoms

Alcohol-induced hepatitis—also called alcoholic hepatitis (AH)—is an inflammation of the liver that may be mild or severe. It’s likely caused by long-term heavy drinking, but it can also affect moderate drinkers. 

Up to 35 percent of people who struggle with heavy alcohol abuse develop alcohol-induced hepatitis or alcohol-related liver disease.

Signs & Symptoms Of Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis

Jaundice—a yellowing of the skin and eyes—is the most common sign of alcohol-induced hepatitis, affecting 40 to 60 percent of people with the disease.

Other signs and symptoms of alcohol-induced hepatitis include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss 
  • low-grade fever
  • racing heart rate
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • tenderness in the abdomen
  • fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • enlarged liver
  • kidney failure
  • liver failure

Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis & Malnutrition

Many people with alcohol-induced hepatitis don’t get proper nutrition. When someone suffers from alcohol addiction, a large part of their calorie intake comes from alcohol consumption. They may not have much of an appetite for food and are unlikely to prioritize a healthy diet.

Malnutrition can lead to a worsened case of alcoholic hepatitis because it weakens the immune system. It is also linked to a higher rate of infection in people with AH. 

Signs of malnutrition include decreased muscle mass and swelling in the legs or feet.

Psychological Symptoms Of Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis

If your liver is damaged by alcohol-induced hepatitis, you may act differently and experience confusion. These behavioral changes come from a nervous system disorder called hepatic encephalopathy (HE). It’s caused by toxins that build up when your liver isn’t working right.

Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy come in stages ranging from mild to severe:

  • impaired coordination
  • short attention span
  • mood changes
  • difficulty sleeping
  • lack of energy
  • forgetfulness
  • inability to do basic math
  • shaking hands
  • disorientation
  • lethargy
  • extreme anxiety
  • coma (last stage)

Someone who shows signs of HE and drinks heavily is likely to suffer from alcohol-induced hepatitis as well.

Long-Term Symptoms Of Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis

Alcohol-induced hepatitis is part of the progression of alcoholic liver disease. Some people start with fatty liver disease (steatosis). Others may get acute alcoholic hepatitis (the severest form) suddenly, like after a night of binge drinking alcohol.

If untreated, alcohol-induced hepatitis can cause alcohol-related cirrhosis (irreversible scarring of the liver). 

When you drink an excessive amount of alcohol, it can damage liver tissue and kill liver cells. The liver tries to repair itself by producing scar tissue (fibrosis), which builds up and makes the liver function poorly. Liver cirrhosis is a severe form of scarring.

Alcoholic hepatitis is life-threatening. It raises the risk of liver failure, liver cancer, and the need for a liver transplant. 

If you stop all alcohol intake, AH may stop progressing. Some of the liver damage may be reversible.

Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis Risk Factors

Not all heavy drinkers develop alcohol-induced hepatitis. Other risk factors make liver damage more likely, such as:

  • hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • genetics
  • smoking tobacco
  • sex (women are more prone to AH)
  • obesity
  • binge drinking
  • poor nutrition

Diagnosing Alcohol-Induced Hepatitis

Alcohol-induced hepatitis can be diagnosed by measuring liver enzymes in your blood. This can detect alcoholic hepatitis before it becomes severe and measure how much damage your liver already has.

Other ways to diagnose alcohol-induced hepatitis are:

  • a liver biopsy
  • an ultrasound
  • an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • a CT scan 

Alcoholic Hepatitis Prevention

The best way to lower your risk for alcohol-induced hepatitis is to stop drinking—or at least drink less and don’t binge drink. 

Other alcoholic hepatitis prevention tips include:

  • exercise
  • a healthy diet
  • not mixing alcohol with certain medications (like Tylenol)
  • not sharing needles or having unprotected sex (raising the risk of other forms of hepatitis)

If your alcohol use makes you concerned for your or your loved one’s health, please contact us to learn about our treatment options.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

American Liver Foundation - Diagnosing Hepatic Encephalopathy
Johns Hopkins Medicine - Alcoholic Hepatitis
National Center for Biotechnology Information - Symptoms and signs of acute alcoholic hepatitis

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