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What is the Relationship Between Alcoholism and Cirrhosis?

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands

Alcoholism and cirrhosis are both potentially fatal diseases. It is a well established fact that alcoholism is one of the most common causes of cirrhosis of the liver. Experts estimate that as many as 20% of all heavy drinkers will develop an alcoholic liver disease (ALD), such as cirrhosis, with continued alcohol abuse.

The liver makes proteins that produce healthy blood clotting. It also helps cleanse the blood of dangerous toxins and bacteria, which may cause infection. This organ also helps process cholesterol, hormones and nutrients in the blood.

Several types of liver disease, including cirrhosis.
Several types of liver disease, including cirrhosis.

Also known as hepatic cirrhosis or alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis is a buildup of scar tissue on the liver. The thickening of the tissue on this organ causes it to work harder than it normally would. With time, the liver wears out and begins to malfunction, which leaves a person susceptible to a host of serious complications.

Ever since researchers first discovered a correlation, the direct link between alcoholism and cirrhosis has been undeniable. Studying the effects of alcoholism and cirrhosis is often associated with studying the cause and effect of liver damage. This is because when alcohol enters the liver, it causes inflammation, which then leads to the creation of scar tissue.

Frequent drinking may cause cirrhosis.
Frequent drinking may cause cirrhosis.

Alcoholism and cirrhosis both tend to develop before a person realizes how either is affecting her or his life. Each tends to manifest through a gradual process. In fact, in its earliest stages, individuals with alcoholic cirrhosis often do not experience any recognizable symptoms. This compounds the issue of alcoholism and cirrhosis as further damage to the organ is sustained when a person continues to abuse alcohol.

Alcoholism often causes cirrhosis, which can be fatal.
Alcoholism often causes cirrhosis, which can be fatal.

When detected before major damage is done, with treatment and lifestyle changes that include abstaining from alcohol, the liver can recover from cirrhosis. Without early detection, immediate treatment and lifestyle changes, however, the damage from alcoholism and cirrhosis is usually permanent. It is at this point that an individual’s only option for a healthy liver is that of a liver transplant, but such is only made available to those who do not abuse alcohol.

Alcoholism and cirrhosis are further impacted by other conditions that invade the body when the liver is compromised. One such condition is malnutrition due to a malfunctioning liver being unable to properly absorb the right amount of nutrients needed to sustain the body. Also, without being able to properly address the task of removing toxins from the blood, cirrhosis causes a buildup of toxins that lead to frequent infections and a neurological condition known as hepatic encephalopathy, which is characterized by poor mental focus and confusion. For some, cirrhosis of the liver even leads to kidney failure. Research also indicates that alcoholism and cirrhosis increases an individual’s chances of developing liver cancer later in life.

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Discussion Comments


People think that cirrhosis only happens to those after thirty or forty years of non-stop drinking. But that's not true. My friend was recently diagnosed with cirrhosis. He's in his thirties. He enjoys drinks a few days a week but he's not an alcoholic. It still happened to him.

Some people are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than others. So there is no guarantee that even moderate drinkers won't experience any liver issues because of the alcohol. That's why young people need to take this more seriously and limit their alcohol to a minimum. Or better yet, don't drink at all.


@bear78-- I'm not an expert on this topic but I'll try to explain.

Alcohol is basically a toxin, the body treats it as such. Like all toxins, alcohol goes to the liver where the liver processes it to get it out of the body as fast as possible.

If someone drinks heavily and regularly, the liver will have to work extra hard to process all the alcohol. After some time, the liver becomes so overworked that some liver cells become non-functional. The liver isn't able to renew those cells and starts building scar tissue over them. After many years of alcohol use, an alcoholic's liver may be covered with scar tissue which prevent proper blood circulation and function in the liver. Toxins that the liver is responsible for getting rid of start accumulating in the body. And the liver will eventually fail.


We all know very well the link between alcoholism and cirrhosis. But why does alcohol use cause the liver to make scar tissue? I'm confused about this point.

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    • Several types of liver disease, including cirrhosis.
      By: peterjunaidy
      Several types of liver disease, including cirrhosis.
    • Frequent drinking may cause cirrhosis.
      By: stokkete
      Frequent drinking may cause cirrhosis.
    • Alcoholism often causes cirrhosis, which can be fatal.
      Alcoholism often causes cirrhosis, which can be fatal.