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Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease

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Alcohol and cirrhosis

for Veterans and the Public

Alcohol and cirrhosis - Alcoholic Liver Disease for Patients

Cirrhosis is severe scarring of the liver and is the end result of damage to liver cells. Cirrhosis can be caused by many things, including viral hepatitis or alcohol, or both.

Liver changes from healthy to cirrhotic.
Scroll over image to see the liver change from a healthy liver to a liver with cirrhosis.

How does alcohol affect cirrhosis?

Alcohol increases the damage done to the liver and speeds up the development of cirrhosis. For example, after about 25 years of hepatitis C infection, heavy drinkers show more than twice the scarring of light drinkers or non-drinkers. After 40 years of infection and heavy drinking, most heavy drinkers have developed cirrhosis.

Hepatitis C and cirrhosis

In general, someone with hepatitis C has around a 20% chance of the fibrosis progressing all the way to development of cirrhosis. Alcohol use increases this chance severely. A heavy drinker with hepatitis C has 16 times the risk of cirrhosis compared with a non-drinker with hepatitis C. Alcohol and hepatitis C both damage the liver, so together, the risk of serious liver damage (cirrhosis) is much higher than with either alone. Learn more about how alcohol affects people living with hepatitis C.