How Much Alcohol Causes Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is one of the most severe potential outcomes of a prolonged pattern of excessive drinking. In fact, you can easily die from advanced forms of this alcohol-related liver disease. If you drink regularly, you may want to know how much alcohol causes cirrhosis. Researchers can answer this question generally, but no one knows for sure how much drinking is required to trigger the disease in any given person.

Understanding Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis occurs whenever scar tissue replaces healthy, functional cells inside your liver. Although this process has many possible sources, excessive drinking is one of its primary causes. That’s because ongoing exposure to large amounts of alcohol directly damages your liver, the organ responsible for breaking down liquor and a broad range of other substances that have a toxic effect on your body. Severe cirrhosis can progress to liver failure, a major loss of function in the organ that can kill you unless you receive a timely transplant.

Who Gets Cirrhosis?

So, how much alcohol causes cirrhosis? There are actually two main factors to consider: the amount of alcohol you consume and the number of years you have been drinking. In men, risks for the condition typically appear when habitual daily alcohol consumption meets or exceeds a threshold of roughly 40 grams. This is the equivalent of:

  • Two to eight 12-oz servings of beer (depending on alcohol content)
  • Three to six shots of distilled liquor (depending on alcohol content or proof), and
  • Three to six glasses of wine (again, depending on alcohol content)

In women, risks for alcoholic cirrhosis enter the picture when habitual daily intake meets or exceeds a much lower threshold of 20 grams of alcohol. It takes time to develop the types of serious liver damage that characterize alcoholic cirrhosis. Professional treatment for alcohol abuse should be sought long before these effects take place. Men and women must typically maintain their ongoing pattern of excessive daily intake for at least a decade before they trigger the onset of the condition. However, despite these general figures, it’s crucial to note that no one can tell you in advance how much or how long you can drink before you develop cirrhosis. In people who drink in extreme amounts for two decades or longer, the chances of developing the disease are roughly 50/50. In addition, among men who drink similarly excessive amounts of alcohol for similarly extended amounts of time, individuals with African-American and Hispanic/Latino backgrounds have notably higher risks for alcoholic cirrhosis than their European-American counterparts. Resources Merck Manual – Professional Version: Alcoholic Liver Disease American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases: Alcoholic Liver Disease.

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