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Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Cirrhosis?

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Updated June 23, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Cirrhosis?

Will this lead to cirrhosis?

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Question: Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Cirrhosis?
Answer: Cirrhosis is a liver disease that can develop when your liver is repeatedly damaged. Much like the scar tissue that forms on your skin after a cut, the liver also forms scar tissue while repairing itself. A little scar tissue is no problem for the liver, but too much scarring interferes with how the liver works, and problems develop as a result. Several things can damage the liver and cause cirrhosis. Some of the most common are chronic alcohol abuse and chronic infection with hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses.

If you do not have liver disease, an occasional alcoholic drink probably won't cause cirrhosis. In fact, moderate drinking may even offer protective benefits such as lowering your risk of gallstones and heart attack, among other conditions. However, heavy drinking (defined as having five or more drinks a day) is known to cause cirrhosis. This can develop into alcoholic liver disease.

If you have an existing liver disease, such as chronic hepatitis, you are at increased risk for developing cirrhosis if you drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol may also increase your risk of developing hepatocellular cancer.

If you already have cirrhosis or if you have chronic hepatitis, it is important to avoid alcohol.

Sources:

Dienstag, JL. "Chronic Hepatitis." Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine 17e. 2008.

Mukamal KJ. Risks and Benefits of Alcohol. UpToDate. Accessed: October 30, 2009.

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