Skip to content

Alcoholic Hepatitis

What is Alcoholic Hepatitis

The liver is a large organ that lies up under the ribs on the right side of the belly (abdomen). It helps filter waste from the body. It also makes bile to help digest food, and stores sugar that the body uses for energy. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver that leads to liver cell damage and cell death. [1]

Excessive alcohol consumption could result in fatty liver disease or steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis (AH), and eventually alcoholic cirrhosis.  Alcoholic hepatitis usually progresses to cirrhosis if drinking is continued. For those who discontinue alcohol, hepatitis returns to normal within a few months but the cirrhosis that has already occurred does not reverse.

A survey of liver transplant programs conducted in 2015 revealed only 27% of the programs offer a transplant to AH patients. Of the 3,290 liver transplants performed 1.37% were on AH patients. [2]

Alcoholic Hepatitis Treatment
The primary treatment for alcoholic hepatitis is to stop consuming alcohol. 

What Causes Alcoholic Hepatitis?

When alcohol gets processed in the liver, it produces highly toxic chemicals. These chemicals can injure the liver cells. This injury then leads to inflammation and alcoholic hepatitis.

Although heavy alcohol use leads to alcoholic hepatitis, doctors aren’t entirely sure why the condition develops. Alcoholic hepatitis develops in a minority of people who heavily use alcohol — no more than 35 percent according to the American Liver Foundation. It can also develop in people who moderately use alcohol.

How is it Diagnosed?

Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask about your current and past alcohol use. It’s important, to be honest about your drinking habits. Your doctor might ask your permission to interview family members about your drinking.

To test for liver disease, your doctor might recommend:

  • Liver function tests
  • Blood tests
  • An ultrasound, CT or MRI scan of the liver
  • A liver biopsy, if other tests and imaging don’t provide a clear diagnosis or if you are at risk of other causes of hepatitis

Alcoholic Hepatits Symptoms

The following are the most common symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis:

Alcoholic Hepatitis Treatment
 In severe cases of alcoholic hepatitis, a liver transplant may be the only chance for survival.
  • Belly (abdomen) tenderness or pain over the liver
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds
  • Poor appetite
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Fever

Alcoholic hepatitis usually develops over time with continued drinking. But severe alcoholic hepatitis can develop suddenly. It can quickly lead to liver failure and death. [3]

The symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis may look like other health conditions or problems. Always see a doctor for a diagnosis.

Possible Complications of Alcoholic Hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis can lead to severe and lasting liver damage, which can, in turn, cause serious health complications. In some cases, these complications can be life-threatening.

Cirrhosis of the Liver

Alcoholic hepatitis, which is unrelated to infectious hepatitis, is a potentially serious condition that can be caused by alcohol misuse over a longer period.

When this develops, it may be the first time a person is aware they’re damaging their liver through alcohol. Less commonly, alcoholic hepatitis can occur if you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time (binge drinking).

The liver damage associated with mild alcoholic hepatitis is usually reversible if you stop drinking permanently. Severe alcoholic hepatitis, however, is a serious and life-threatening illness.

Many people die from the condition each year, and some people only find out they have liver damage when their condition reaches this stage. Alcoholic Cirrhosis is a stage of ARLD where the liver has become significantly scarred. Even at this stage, there may not be any obvious alcoholic cirrhosis symptoms.

It’s generally not reversible, but stopping drinking alcohol immediately can prevent further damage and significantly increase your life expectancy. A person who has alcohol-related cirrhosis and does not stop drinking has a less than 50% chance of living for at least 5 more years.


A nutritional deficiency occurs when the body doesn’t absorb or get from food the necessary amount of a nutrient due to alcoholism and the damage it can cause to your liver. Deficiencies can lead to a variety of health problems. These can include digestion problems, skin disorders, stunted or defective bone growth, and even dementia.

Diet & Exercise

Your healthcare team may also recommend certain lifestyle changes based on your specific symptoms and health needs.

For example:

  • Eating a balanced diet low in salt
  • Drinking enough water
  • Adding more protein to your diet
  • Getting regular physical activity, such as walking, if you’re able to exercise

Hepatitis & Alcohol

Because alcoholic hepatitis doesn’t occur in all people who excessively use alcohol, other factors may influence the development of this condition. These include:

  • Genetic factors that affect how the body processes alcohol
  • The presence of liver infections or other liver disorders, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and hemochromatosis
  • Malnutrition
  • Being overweight
  • Timing of drinking in relation to eating (drinking during mealtimes lowers the riskTrusted Source of developing alcoholic hepatitis)

Women are at a greater risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis. This may be due to the differences in how the bodies of men and women absorb and break down alcohol.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Drinking a large amount of alcohol, even for just a few days, can lead to a build-up of fats in the liver.

This is called alcoholic fatty liver disease and is the first stage of ARLD. The fatty liver disease rarely causes any symptoms, but it’s an important warning sign that you’re drinking at a harmful level. [4] Fatty liver disease is reversible. If you stop drinking alcohol for 2 weeks, your liver should return to normal.

How Can You Prevent Alcoholic Hepatitis?

Alcoholic hepatitis is a condition that’s caused and aggravated by alcohol use. You need to stop drinking if you receive an alcoholic hepatitis diagnosis.

Quit Drinking

You may be able to reverse the damage to your liver by avoiding alcohol in the early stages of the disease. Once more significant damage has occurred, the changes within the liver become permanent. Significant damage can lead to conditions such as cirrhosis, blood clotting problems, and high levels of bilirubin.

Even if the damage is too severe to reverse, you should still quit drinking to prevent further harm to your liver.

In people with permanent liver damage due to alcohol, there’s a 30% increase in survival rate among those who stop drinking compared to those who continue to drink.

Alcoholic Hepatitis Treatment
There is no cure for alcoholic hepatitis, but treatment will aim to reduce or eliminate symptoms and halt the progression of the disease. 

There’s always a benefit to quitting drinking. If you have an alcohol addiction and need help to stop drinking, talk to your doctor about the different treatment options for addiction. There are many excellent hospitals and clinic facilities that specialize in alcohol detoxification and recovery.

Medication & Treatment

Treatment for alcoholic hepatitis may include medications that reduce inflammation in your liver and improve liver function.

Your doctor may also prescribe vitamin and nutrient supplements if you’re malnourished. These nutrients may need to be provided through a feeding tube if you’re having trouble eating. Feeding tubes pass nutrient-rich liquids directly into your digestive system through a variety of methods.

Your doctor may recommend a liver transplant if your liver is severely damaged. To qualify for a transplant, you must demonstrate that you won’t continue drinking if you receive a new liver. You’ll also need to abstain from alcohol for at least six months prior to the transplant. In some cases, you may need to seek counseling as well.


Patients with alcoholic hepatitis need long-term follow-up. Many can benefit from attending AA or a similar abuse treatment program. Serology for viral hepatitis should be ordered and period surveillance for liver cancer is recommended. Patients with alcoholic hepatitis should be immunized against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza A virus, and pneumococcus. [5]

Alcoholic Hepatitis Treatments

Furthermore, recovery at We Level Up TX Treatment Center utilizes a multidisciplinary and multidimensional approach. We incorporate a variety of proven treatments that provide you or your loved one with opportunities for the most optimal treatment outcome: long-term sobriety. Our treatment focuses on symptom reduction, as well as the development of healthy coping skills, and spiritual growth, in order for our guests to attain an independent life that is filled with purpose, health, hope, and fulfillment. We Level Up TX also includes evidence-based therapeutic practices and offers support to family members and loved ones, friends, and the community at large.

Alcoholic Hepatitis Treatment
Scarring of the liver is permanent, but the liver can repair some of the damage. Seek help before symptoms get severe.

Some people are apprehensive to quit drinking because they’re nervous about the withdrawal symptoms experienced during alcohol detox. While some people may only be affected by minor effects of alcoholism, others may face extreme pain. Withdrawal symptoms can change quickly and aggressively, which is why it’s important to detox under the care of medical professionals. Treatment professionals at a rehab facility will be able to help you manage your pain with different medications. [6] This allows you to focus on your recovery and get better.

If you or someone you love is seeking a safe, secure, and compassionate resource for alcoholic hepatitis treatment, We Level Up TX is here for you. Call us and speak with an addiction counselor today about our levels of care.



[1-3] Alcoholic Hepatitis – The Johns Hopkins University
[2-5] Alcoholic Hepatitis – National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine
[4] NHS – Alcohol-related liver disease
[6] We Level Up – Addiction » Alcoholic Hepatitis