Causes of alcohol-related liver disease 

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is caused by drinking too much alcohol. The more you drink above the recommended limits, the higher your risk of developing ARLD.

There are two ways that alcohol misuse can cause ARLD:

  • drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time (known as binge drinking) can cause fatty liver disease and, less commonly, alcoholic hepatitis
  • drinking more than the recommended limits of alcohol over many years can cause hepatitis and cirrhosis, the more serious types of ARLD

Evidence suggests that people who regularly drink more than the maximum amounts of alcohol recommended by the NHS are most at risk of developing ARLD.

The NHS recommendations are:

  • men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day
  • women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day

It is also recommended that you avoid alcohol for 48 hours after a heavy drinking session.

Read more about alcohol units and how to calculate them.

Additional factors

As well as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, there are other factors that can increase your chances of developing ARLD, including:

  • being overweight or obese
  • being female (women appear to be more vulnerable than men to the harmful effects of alcohol)
  • having a pre-existing liver condition, such as hepatitis C (a chronic viral infection of the liver)
  • genetics - dependence on alcohol and problems processing alcohol often run in families

Page last reviewed: 06/09/2013

Next review due: 06/09/2015