Alcohol and Your Liver

Your liver is a vital organ in your body and just as important as your heart. It works hard performing over 500 jobs including manufacturing, storing and processing anything you put into your body.

Whenever you drink alcohol your liver has to work hard to filter this toxin and remove it from your body.

The liver is a very resilient organ but putting it under too much stress impacts its ability to regenerate. Every time you drink alcohol, some of your liver cells die. Drinking too much alcohol makes it harder for your liver to create new cells and can lead to permanent damage.

Drinking alcohol puts you at a greater risk of developing liver disease, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).

Alcohol-related liver disease occurs when the liver has been damaged by drinking too much alcohol and generally progresses through three stages:

  • Fatty liver (steatosis) – A build of up fats in your liver cells
  • Alcoholic hepatitis – Your liver becomes inflamed and swollen
  • Alcohol-related cirrhosis – Your liver develops irreversible scar tissue

Unfortunately, people generally don’t experience any symptoms of liver disease until the liver has been heavily damaged. If you are concerned about your liver health, talk to your doctor about a liver health check.

It is important to know there is no health benefit from drinking alcohol and it is never completely safe.

While drinking less lowers your risk of alcohol-related harm, for some people not drinking at all is the safest option. If you have a health condition, such as chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C, it is a good idea to stop drinking alcohol completely.

Australian alcohol guidelines

Australian Guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than 10 standard drinks in a week, and no more than 4 standard drinks in a day.

A standard drink can vary greatly depending on the alcohol type and how much you have. You can check the label to see how many standard drinks a bottle or pack contains.

You may be surprised how much a standard drink actually is. This online Standard Drink Calculator is a useful way to find out how what a standard drink looks like in common glasses.

If cutting out alcohol entirely is not an option for you, consider reducing the amount you drink, or try one week without any alcohol. Then, note how you felt the week you reduced or gave up alcohol, compared with the week when you drank.

Ways to manage your alcohol intake

Some simple ways to help you manage your alcohol intake include:

  • avoid binge drinking – it places a heavy strain on your liver
  • start with a non-alcoholic drink, especially if you are thirsty
  • try not to drink in rounds – determine your own drinking pace
  • eat a substantial meal before drinking
  • alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones
  • try new social situations where drinking is not usually expected
  • switch to low-alcohol drinks
  • have several alcohol-free days per week

If you would like help in reducing your alcohol intake there are a range of support and treatment services available.

Services that can help

  • Your doctor can provide options and referrals to treatment service.
  • ADIS Alcohol and Drug Support is a 24-hour, 7 day a week confidential support service. Call 1800 177 833.
  • QAIHC (Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council) deliver the program Breakthrough Our Way tailored for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families experiencing issues with alcohol and other drugs.
  • Lives Lived Well has professional counsellors and rehabilitation centres available for people impacted by alcohol, drugs or problems with mental health. Phone 1300 727 957 or visit the Lives Lived Well website.
  • Alcohol and Drug Foundation provides a free and confidential support service available by phone 1300 858 584 or email druginfo@adf.org.au.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous offer regular group meetings for people to share their experiences. Visit the Alcoholics Anonymous website or phone 1300 222 222

This website may contain the names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have passed on.