When you drink alcohol, your liver has to process it – which is not easy. The way alcohol affects your liver depends upon how much alcohol you drink and how regularly you consume it. 


How does alcohol affect the liver?


If you only drink a small amount, your liver can usually manage ok. If you drink large amounts, your liver starts to have a hard time processing the alcohol. If your liver cells are worked too hard, they can start to become damaged. This damage can lead to fatty liver or fibrosis (scarring of the liver) and sometimes cirrhosis (serious liver damage).

If you are worried about how much you can drink safely, you should try to limit your alcohol use to the national recommendations for Australian adults.

  • Men and women should not drink more than two standard drinks per day (a standard drink is one schooner of light beer, one middy of full strength beer, one standard glass of wine or one nip of spirits)
  • If on any occasion, you do drink over the above limit, try to avoid drinking more than four standard drinks in a day.


You might find the following alcohol tips are helpful to cut down your drinking.

  • Have regular alcohol-free days
  • Try low alcohol drinks
  • Follow each alcoholic drink with several non-alcoholic drinks
  • Avoid places where there is pressure to drink
  • Avoid drinking in rounds (having turns at buying everyone’s drinks)
  • Finish each drink and then wait a while before starting a new one (don’t let people top up your glass).

If you have difficulty limiting your alcohol intake, seek advice from your doctor or call the NSW Alcohol & Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 051.


Symptoms of alcohol-related liver damage


In the early stages of alcohol-related liver damage, there are usually few or no symptoms. If you develop cirrhosis, you may start to have serious symptoms, such as jaundice.

For more detail on the symptoms of fatty liver, fibrosis and cirrhosis, take a look at our page, Symptoms of Liver Damage and Disease.


Excessive drinking and fatty liver disease


In the early stages of alcohol-related liver disease, people sometimes develop fatty liver disease. This stage can often be reversed if you are able to avoid drinking alcohol. Your doctor might also suggest other lifestyle and diet changes to help your liver become healthy again.


Access support services to find out more information


If you are worried about how much you drink, or about the health of your liver, speak to your doctor, nurse or clinic. They can help you get tested, to see if you have any liver damage. 

Doctors can do tests that indicate the possible condition of your liver. These include blood tests, such as Liver Function Tests. They also include Fibroscan examinations.


Click here for more information about Liver Function Tests PDF >>

Click here for more information about Fibroscan examinations >>


Your doctor can also refer you to services that can help you manage your alcohol use, change your diet or get any other support you need. If you are looking for a doctor near you, search our hep-friendly Services Directory.

This page last updated 10 Jan 2018

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