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The Alcoholic Liver Disease Stages & Their Warning Signs

The Alcoholic Liver Disease Stages & Their Warning Signs

As a rehab in Massachusetts, we have seen the lasting damage that alcohol can have on various aspects of a person’s life.

It can not only cause relationship issues or lead to run-ins with the law, but these beverages can also cause serious health problems that may even be fatal. Alcoholic liver disease is an example of this, and it can change the trajectory of a person’s health and well-being. If left unaddressed, it can cause long-term issues, but hope is not lost. We are taking a look at the different alcoholic liver disease stages, what each stage entails regarding complications, and how these issues can be effectively addressed.

The 3 Stages of Alcoholic Liver Disease & Their Symptoms to Look For

The liver is responsible for filtering blood, protein creation, metabolizing drugs, and detoxing chemicals like alcohol. If this organ becomes damaged, these functions will not be efficient, which could mean serious trouble for the individual.

Excessive alcohol consumption over an extended amount of time may lead to alcoholic liver disease. Almost 100% of alcoholics who consume at least 80 grams of alcohol (about 6 or 7 drinks) a day for over 10 years will develop liver disease.1 This disease is progressive as well, and the signs of alcoholic liver disease will become more prevalent and severe without treatment. The alcoholic liver disease stages include fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and liver cirrhosis.

1.     Fatty Liver Disease/Steatosis

The first stage of alcoholic liver disease is fatty liver or steatosis, which is characterized by excessive fat inside liver cells and negatively impacts the efficiency of the liver. About 20% of alcoholics and heavy drinkers will reach this stage of liver disease from alcohol.2

Often, the only sign of fatty liver disease is an enlarged liver, so many people may not realize that they have a problem until the disease becomes more severe or they reach the next stage of alcoholic liver disease.

2.     Alcoholic Hepatitis

The second stage of liver disease from alcohol is alcoholic hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis leads to inflammation of the liver, degeneration of liver cells, and fibrosis or the development of excessive amounts of scar tissue in the liver. It is important that if you are diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, you stop drinking immediately. About half of severe cases are fatal, and 40% of cases will progress into the next alcoholic liver disease stage.2 If you are struggling to quit on your own, the intensive outpatient program at our drug rehab near Boston may be able to help and prevent you from reaching the next and more fatal stage of alcoholic liver disease.

Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Yellow-tinted skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Fever

3.     Liver Cirrhosis

The last of the alcoholic liver disease stages is cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the build-up of permanent scar tissue in the liver that interrupts regular liver function and can lead to liver failure. This stage of alcoholic liver damage is serious and can be fatal. Drinking needs to stop immediately to keep the condition from getting any worse and to avoid fatalities. In the later stages of cirrhosis, the survival rate is about 60% for those who quit drinking but only 35% for those who don’t.2

Symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • Redness in palms
  • Yellow-tinted skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Abnormal changes in fingernails
  • Bleeding or bruising easily
  • Swelling in legs and feet (edema)
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy skin
  • Fluid accumulation in the stomach (ascites)
  • Mental confusion

Can Alcoholic Liver Disease Be Reversed?

The severity of alcoholic liver disease can vary, and the degree of liver damage determines whether it can be reversed. Changing one's lifestyle to exclude alcohol can help reverse the symptoms of ALD and the damage caused by liver inflammation in its early stages, when it is still mild and hasn't developed into cirrhosis. Because of the liver's amazing ability to regenerate, people who refrain from drinking alcohol may see a decrease in inflammation and a return to normal liver function. However, the success of reversal diminishes as ALD advances to more severe stages, such as cirrhosis, where significant scarring has occurred. At this stage, treating the complications takes precedence over repairing the damage and becomes the main goal of medical care. Overall, it will take time for someone to experience healing of the liver after quitting alcohol. If you are ready to take the first step on that journey and leave problematic drinking in the past, contact us today.

What Is the Life Expectancy of Someone With Alcoholic Liver Disease?

The life expectancy of someone with alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is heavily influenced by several factors, including the stage at which the disease is diagnosed and the individual's willingness to make lifestyle changes. In the initial phases of ALD, when there is minimal liver inflammation and no cirrhosis yet, early intervention through alcohol abstinence can prolong life expectancy. Because of the liver's extraordinary ability to regenerate, people may see a significant improvement in their liver function and a longer lifespan.

However, the prognosis worsens in more advanced stages of ALD, especially if cirrhosis has developed. Significant scarring of the liver tissue occurs in cirrhosis, which affects the liver's ability to function and can cause complications like liver failure. The life expectancy is significantly shortened in these situations. The progression of ALD can be unpredictable, and outcomes vary from person to person. It underscores the importance of early detection, comprehensive medical management, and sustained abstinence from alcohol to optimize the chances of a better prognosis for individuals with alcoholic liver disease.

Treatment for Liver Disease & Alcohol Abuse

If you start to experience any symptoms of liver disease or are found to meet any of the stages of alcoholic liver disease, the first thing you need to do is stop drinking. Every time you have another drink, you could be putting your life at risk. Our alcohol rehab near Boston can help you with this process. Other treatments for alcoholic liver disease may include nutritional therapy, medication, and even a liver transplant, depending on the severity and the liver disease stage. It is important to talk to a doctor immediately to develop a treatment plan.

Whether it is an addiction to drugs or alcohol, your health may be at stake.

Do not wait to get help for yourself or a loved one. Verify your benefits and call Banyan Treatment Center today at 888-280-4763 to learn more about what our Massachusetts rehabs have to offer.



  1. NCBI - Alcoholic liver disease
  2. NCBI - The Epidemiology of Alcoholic Liver Disease
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.