Alcoholic cirrhosis destroys normal liver tissue, and it leaves scar tissue in place of the working liver tissue. The liver is a large organ with an essential job in your body. It filters the blood of toxins, breaks down proteins, and creates bile to help the body absorb fats. When a person drinks alcohol heavily over decades, the body starts to replace the liver’s healthy tissue with scar tissue. Doctors call this condition alcoholic liver cirrhosis.  As the disease progresses and more of your healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, your liver will stop functioning correctly.

According to the American Liver Foundation,[1] between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis. Alcoholic liver cirrhosis is the most advanced form of liver disease that’s related to drinking alcohol. The condition is part of a progression. For example, it may start with fatty liver disease, then progress to alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis. However, it’s possible a person can develop alcoholic liver cirrhosis without ever having alcoholic hepatitis.

Alcoholic Cirrhosis
If you have alcoholic cirrhosis, it is likely that your liver has not been functioning well for a long time.

Symptoms Of Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis

Symptoms of alcoholic liver cirrhosis typically develop when a person is between the ages of 30 and 40. Your body will be able to compensate for your liver’s limited function in the early stages of the disease. As the disease progresses, symptoms will become more noticeable. The symptoms of alcoholic liver cirrhosis are similar to other alcohol-related liver disorders.

  • Jaundice
  • Portal Hypertension, which increases blood pressure in the vein that travels through the liver
  • Skin Itching (pruritus)

Signs Of Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Symptoms of alcoholic liver cirrhosis include:

  • Losing muscle tone (atrophy)
  • Bruising easily
  • Patchy red skin on the palms of your hands (erythema)
  • Confusion, memory loss, poor concentration, and mental fog
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Fluid buildup and swelling of the legs (edema) and abdomen (ascites)
  • Bleeding in your mouth (mouth bleeds) or vomiting blood

Causes From Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Damage from repeated and excessive alcohol abuse leads to alcoholic liver cirrhosis. When the liver tissue starts to scar, the liver doesn’t work as well as before. As a result, the body can’t produce enough proteins or filter toxins out of the blood as it should. Cirrhosis of the liver can occur due to a variety of causes.  However, alcoholic liver cirrhosis is directly related to alcohol intake.

Who Are More Likely to Get This Condition?

The most significant risk factor for alcoholic liver disease is alcohol abuse. Typically, a person has drunk heavily for at least eight years. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [2] defines heavy drinking as drinking five or more drinks in one day on at least five of the past 30 days.

Women are also more at risk for alcoholic liver disease. This is because women don’t have as many enzymes in their stomachs to break down alcohol particles. Because of this, more alcohol can reach the liver and make scar tissue. Alcoholic liver disease can also have some genetic factors. For example, some people are born with a deficiency in enzymes that help to eliminate alcohol. Obesity, a high-fat diet, and hepatitis C can also increase a person’s likelihood of having alcoholic liver disease.

How Do We Diagnose Alcoholic Cirrhosis?

Diagnosing alcoholic liver cirrhosis includes having a physical exam and one or more diagnostic tests:

  • Physical Exam:  We start with a comprehensive physical exam where we look for symptoms of liver disease, such as jaundice or bruising easily. Next, we learn more about your medical history, as well as habits and behaviors that may be contributing to your condition.
  • Blood Test:  A simple blood test tells us how your condition is affecting your liver. For example, if you have anemia and low levels of folate or vitamin B12, you may not be getting proper nutrition. 
  • Imaging:  Instead of a liver biopsy, we use advanced imaging techniques, such as the FibroScan system, to precisely measure how much healthy liver you have left. We are one of the programs in the Bay Area where this technology is available.

Complications From Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Alcoholic liver cirrhosis can cause serious complications.  This is known as decompensated cirrhosis. Examples of these complications include:

  • Internal bleeding, known as bleeding varices
  • Jaundice, which makes the skin and eyes have a yellow tint
  • Ascites, or a buildup of fluid in the stomach
  • Encephalopathy, or mental confusion

*Those with this more severe form of cirrhosis often require a liver transplant to survive. 

How Is Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis Treated?

Doctors can reverse some forms of liver disease with treatment, but alcoholic liver cirrhosis usually can’t be changed. However, your doctor can recommend treatments that may slow the disease’s progress and reduce your symptoms. The first step in treatment is to help the person stop drinking. Those with alcoholic liver cirrhosis are often so dependent on alcohol that they could experience severe health complications if they try to quit without being in the hospital. However, a doctor can recommend a hospital or treatment facility to start the journey toward sobriety.

Alcoholic Cirrhosis
Prevent Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Treatment for Alcoholic Cirrhosis

These are the effective treatment for this case.

Innovative Treatments

Our research tests the next generation of alcoholic liver cirrhosis treatments, including the Extracorporeal Liver Assist System. ELAD provides temporary dialysis to restore liver functioning. Stanford is the only location offering ELAD in the Bay Area.

Alcohol Cessation

When you stop using alcohol (alcohol cessation), your liver does not need to work as hard to do its job. We recognize that each person’s path to recovery is different, and we are here to help.  Our dedicated addiction specialists use a compassionate approach to help you give up alcohol for good.

Liver Transplant

If your condition does not improve with treatment, you may reach a point where your liver can no longer do its job (liver failure). When this happens, you need a liver transplant. 

Lifestyle Changes

Living a healthy lifestyle can help your liver heal and increase your chances for a successful treatment. You may need to change old habits, which may include learning how to eat a balanced diet.  Our team consists of a dietician who specializes in working with liver disease clients. 

Regular Testing

We use blood tests and non-invasive imaging tests to see how your liver responds to treatment. Testing also helps us catch the early signs of complications, such as liver cancer. 

Your condition may leave you feeling too sick to travel. Our network of outreach clinics gives you access to nationally renowned liver disease specialists right in your local community.

We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. We work as an integrated team providing information about alcoholic cirrhosis and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.


[1] American Liver Foundation –

[2] NIAAA –