Early Signs Of Liver Damage From Alcohol

Laura Smart - Author for Rehab Clinics Group

Laura Smart - Last Updated: June 15, 2023 | All Sources

Last reviewed: May 16, 2023 by Dr Alexander Lapa. All information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol damages your liver. If you’re a heavy drinker or you’ve been drinking for years, this can lead to a condition called alcohol-related liver disease.

Your liver breaks down toxins that enter your body. If you’re drinking excessively and frequently, your liver can’t take all the toxins from your bloodstream. Your liver works overtime, trying but failing to filter alcohol from your body.

You can look after your liver if you drink moderately or don’t drink at all. If you suspect you’ve damaged your liver, speak to your doctor. They can offer advice about your lifestyle and diet and suggest ways to look after your liver.


What Is The Role Of The Liver?

Your liver plays a vital role in your body. It filters out waste and toxins from your system and makes bile for the intestines to help with food digestion. If you drink alcohol, it filters out toxins but only one drink per hour. If you drink excessively, your liver can’t break down the alcohol, leaving a toxic build-up.

The liver plays an integral part in helping break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats. It stores vitamins and minerals and helps with your metabolism.


If you stick to a safe drinking limit, then it’s unlikely that you’ll get liver damage. UK guidelines recommend that men and women drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This means six pints of beer or lager or six medium glasses of wine. Guidelines also advise people to have alcohol-free days and avoid binge drinking, which can rapidly damage the liver.

If you’re trying for a baby or pregnant, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether. Alcohol can cause low birth weight, miscarriage and early births.


What Are The Signs Of Early Liver Failure?

Quite often, in the early stages of liver damage from alcohol, you won’t have any symptoms, but some people can experience the following:

  • Pain in the upper right side of your abdomen due to a swollen liver
  • Constant feelings of tiredness
  • Feeling run down and unwell in general
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Feeling sick and being sick
  • Small red blood vessels appear on the surface of the skin

If you’re concerned about your drinking and how it’s impacting your health, visit your doctor. Make sure you tell your doctor how much and how often you drink. You’ll likely have to complete blood tests, which will reveal any signs of liver damage.

Your doctor will discuss ways to improve your liver and how to live a healthier lifestyle. Alternatively, if you suffer from alcohol addiction, residential treatment might be recommended to help you recover from alcohol abuse.


Symptoms of Liver Damage from Alcohol

  • Bloating of your stomach
  • Brain fog and confusion
  • You’re bruising, bleeding and itching easily
  • Oedema; swelling in your feet, ankles and legs
  • Muscle wastage and weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Pain near the liver
  • Your skin and the whites of your eyes are turning yellow (jaundice)

Symptoms of liver damage from alcohol are hard to ignore, and if you experience any, call your doctor immediately. They will prescribe medication such as steroids to help improve symptoms in the short term and refer you for further investigations to get a detailed picture of your liver damage. These include CT, MRI and ultrasound scans, biopsies and endoscopies.


If you continue drinking after discovering early symptoms, you could develop alcohol-related liver disease over time. There are three types: alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcohol-related hepatitis and alcohol-related cirrhosis.

Other factors can contribute to alcohol-related liver damage. You’ll be at greater risk of liver damage if you are female, overweight, or have type 2 diabetes.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Due to excess drinking, fat builds up in your liver and stops it from working. People can reverse fatty liver disease if they stop drinking alcohol for a few weeks and massively reduce their drinking levels in the future. Some will need to stop drinking for good, as the risk to their liver could be too high.

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to mild and severe liver inflammation but is sometimes reversible. Sometimes a person will develop hepatitis after many years. Binge drinking can bring on sudden, severe cases of hepatitis. Patients should call a doctor immediately if they experience severe and sudden pain.

The third disease is cirrhosis. Excessive drinking can cause fibrosis, when scar tissue forms in the liver, taking over healthy liver tissue. The next stage of fibrosis is cirrhosis.

If getting cirrhosis isn’t bad enough, the condition can lead to people developing liver cancer, kidney failure, brain damage, bleeding from the veins, a build-up of fluid in the abdomen and portal hypertension, when there is high blood pressure in the liver.

Alcohol-related cirrhosis is irreversible and often leads to complete kidney failure and in severe cases, death.


Ways To Improve Your Liver If You Have Early Liver Damage

If you have a mild drinking problem, the most obvious answer is to cut out alcohol completely. If you can’t manage this, then reduce the amounts you drink. Some people are entirely alcohol-dependent and need supervised alcohol detox and further treatment to give up alcohol. Don’t attempt to detox independently, as the withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous.

Other ways to improve liver health include:

  • Take up exercise. Exercise reduces fatty deposits building up in your liver.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Cut out unhealthy, fatty and sugary foods.
  • Eat foods that help increase your liver function, such as eggs, artichokes, oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, avocado, and garlic.
  • If you decide to continue drinking, make sure you don’t drink every day and don’t drink more than 14 units per week.
  • Review all medications you take and check if they damage your liver. Medicines such as statins can stop your liver from working well, so speak to your doctor for further advice.
  • Drink lots of water to cleanse your body.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Consider taking natural supplements to aid liver function. Some include milk thistle, turmeric, probiotics (healthy bacteria), and cayenne pepper. Always speak to your doctor before starting any natural supplements.

If you require alcohol rehab treatment to help you recover from binge drinking or alcoholism, get in touch with Rehab Clinics Group today.



  • Is Rehab Expensive?

    A professional rehabilitation centre can be very expensive. However, the benefits that you reap from having a higher quality of care, such as that provided in all of the clinics that we are all to refer you to, cannot be understated. Also, here at Rehab Clinics Group, we are able to work with all manner of budgets in order to get you into a treatment plan which is best for you and your finances. When it comes to your health, you deserve the best possible care, which is what we can provide you with.
  • What Happens After I Leave Rehab?

    For most people who finish a course of inpatient treatment at a rehabilitation centre, there can be a real sense of trepidation about re-entering society. Finding yourself back at home after such an intensive course of treatment may be unsettling at first, but the important thing for you to do is start focussing on the positives that come with living free from addiction. Also, as mentioned above, Rehab Clinics Group refer to treatment centres that offer aftercare programmes, which will ensure that you have the support you had during treatment to ease the transition back to everyday life.
  • How Do I Prepare To Go To Rehab?

    In terms of preparation for rehab, the main thing that you need to be is ready to make serious changes to your lifestyle, thought patterns, and behaviour. The willingness to commit to recovery and give yourself over to the positive changes that specialist therapists can bring about is key to a successful stay at rehab. When it comes to your physical preparation, there is little that needs to be done as the facility’s detox clinic will get you in the best physical state for your recovery. We do not advise detoxing at home prior to arrival as this is extremely dangerous.
Dr Alexander Lapa - Psychiatrist & Clinical Reviewer for Rehab Clinics Group

Dr Alexander Lapa - Clinical Reviewer - Last reviewed: May 16, 2023

MBBS, PG Dip Clin Ed, OA Dip CBT, OA Dip Psychology, SCOPE Certified

Dr Lapa graduated in Medicine in 2000 and since this time has accrued much experience working in the widest range of psychiatric settings with differing illness presentations and backgrounds in inpatient, community and secure settings. This has been aligned to continuation of professional development at postgraduate level in clinical research which has been very closely related to the everyday clinical practice conducted by this practitioner as a NHS and Private Psychiatrist.
He is fully indemnified by the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) and MIAB Expert Insurance for Psychiatric and Private Medical practice. He is fully registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK with a licence to practice.

Dr Lapa is approved under Section 12(2) of the Mental Health Act (1983)

Member of Independent Doctors Federation (IDF), British Association for Psychopharmacology (BMA) and The Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO)

Dr Lapa’s extensive experience has also concentrated on the following areas of clinical practice:
– Assessment, Diagnosis and Pharmacological Treatment for Adults with ADHD.
– Drug and Alcohol Dependency and maintaining abstinence and continued recovery
– Intravenous and Intramuscular Vitamin and Mineral Infusion Therapy
– Dietary and Weight Management and thorough care from assessment to treatment to end goals and maintenance
– Aesthetic Practice and Procedures