Alcoholic hepatitis develops when the alcohol that you drink damages your liver. Just how alcohol damages the liver — and why it does so only in some heavy drinkers — isn't clear.

It is known that:

  • The body's process for breaking down alcohol produces highly toxic chemicals
  • These chemicals trigger inflammation that destroys liver cells
  • Over time, scars replace healthy liver tissue, interfering with liver function
  • This irreversible scarring (cirrhosis) is the final stage of alcoholic liver disease

Other factors that can contribute to alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • Other types of hepatitis. If you have hepatitis C and also drink — even moderately — you're more likely to develop cirrhosis than if you don't drink.
  • Malnutrition. Many people who drink heavily are malnourished, because they eat poorly or because alcohol and its byproducts prevent the body from properly absorbing nutrients. Lack of nutrients contributes to liver cell damage.
Oct. 24, 2015