Drinking alcohol with cirrhosis can worsen liver damage and increase the risk of complications. In rare cases, you may be able to drink occasionally, but you’ll want to talk with a healthcare professional first.

Cirrhosis is a chronic liver disease characterized by progressive scarring and damage to the liver tissue. Cirrhosis is often the end stage of several liver injuries, like viral hepatitis or fatty liver disease.

For people living with cirrhosis, drinking alcohol can further damage the liver and increase your risk of complications.

Drinking alcohol with cirrhosis can pose several risks, including:

  • Worsening of liver damage: Alcohol is processed by the liver, and excessive alcohol consumption can further damage an already compromised liver in cirrhosis. Your liver may not be able to metabolize alcohol effectively, leading to the accumulation of toxins in the liver and worsening of liver function.
  • Increased risk of complications: Cirrhosis can cause various complications, such as portal hypertension (high blood pressure in the veins that bring blood to the liver), hepatic encephalopathy (brain dysfunction due to liver failure), and ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen). Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of these complications or worsen them if they already exist.
  • Increased risk of liver cancer: Alcohol consumption can further increase the risk of developing liver cancer in people with cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can make treating liver cancer more difficult.
  • Interactions with medications: People with cirrhosis often require medications to manage their condition. Alcohol can interact with these medications and may reduce their effectiveness or increase the risk of side effects.
  • Ineligibility for liver transplant: Those with cirrhosis may be candidates for a liver transplant. However, continued alcohol use may disqualify someone from receiving a transplant.
  • Increased risk of death: Drinking alcohol with cirrhosis can increase the risk of death due to complications related to cirrhosis and other alcohol-related health issues.

In a 2021 retrospective study of 44,349 U.S. veterans with cirrhosis, researchers wanted to understand how alcohol use affects the outcomes of various types of cirrhosis.

Among study subjects with alcohol- and hepatitis C-related cirrhosis, those who continued drinking experienced higher rates of decompensation (severe symptoms leading toward liver failure) and death than those who didn’t.

There’s not much research about the effects of only occasional alcohol use of people with cirrhosis. But given the liver’s key role in processing alcohol, medical experts generally recommend that you abstain from alcohol if you have cirrhosis.

Scarring and damage from cirrhosis are usually irreversible. However, the progression of the disease can be slowed or halted, particularly if the underlying cause is treated.

For instance, if cirrhosis is caused by alcohol misuse, quitting drinking can prevent further liver damage and allow the liver to heal to some extent.

However, once cirrhosis has advanced and significant liver scarring has occurred, the liver may lose its ability to regenerate. In these cases, management focuses on preventing further damage, managing complications, and improving quality of life.

Can the liver heal to a point where you can resume drinking?

Experts recommend avoiding alcohol entirely if you have cirrhosis or any other chronic liver disease, even if your liver health has improved or the disease has stopped progressing.

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If you have cirrhosis and find it difficult to stop drinking, know that you don’t have to do it all on your own.

Several approaches can help:

  • Talking with primary care physician: Your primary care physician can provide guidance and support for quitting drinking. They can assess your individual health needs, provide medical advice, and may refer you to additional resources or treatment programs.
  • Counseling or therapy: Individual counseling or therapy can help address the emotional and psychological aspects of alcohlol use. A licensed therapist or counselor can help you manage your triggers and develop coping skills.
  • Support groups: Support groups are available online and locally in many communities. They provide a supportive environment where you can receive encouragement and learn from others who’ve quit drinking.
  • Treatment programs: In some cases, formal treatment programs such as inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs may be recommended. These programs typically offer a structured approach to recovery and may include medical supervision, counseling, and other therapies.

Cirrhosis is an end-stage liver disease characterized by progressive scarring and damage to the liver tissue. When the liver gets scarred, it doesn’t work properly, and this can lead to severe health problems.

It’s generally considered a bad idea to drink alcohol if you have cirrhosis because it can make the liver damage worse, affect liver function, and worsen complications associated with cirrhosis.

It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional for personalized advice on alcohol consumption if you have cirrhosis.