Can I Reverse Liver Damage From Drinking?
Medically Reviewed by Carolin Schneider, MD
If you’re cutting back on drinking for health reasons, you may be wondering: Can I reverse liver damage from drinking? Or is it too late?
There’s no simple “yes” or “no” answer to this question. It’s true that the liver can repair itself in some cases. But whether or not you can reverse liver damage from alcohol depends on several factors. One thing’s for sure: If you want to protect your liver from further damage, the first step is always to stop drinking.
Can You Reverse Alcohol-Related Fatty Liver?
Most alcohol-related liver damage is from regular, heavy drinking over a long period of time. So it may take years to notice even the earliest signs of liver damage.
The first stage of liver damage is alcohol-related fatty liver. Your liver normally processes fats from the foods you eat, and it also processes alcohol. When you drink too much alcohol, your liver falls behind on processing fats and large drops of fat build up in your liver. This makes your liver get bigger and may cause pain and tenderness in your abdomen.
If you stop drinking, your liver can once again dispose of the fat cells and may even return to normal. But if you have fatty liver and you keep on drinking, you’ll be at higher risk for serious liver problems like cirrhosis.
Can You Reverse Alcoholic Hepatitis?
Alcoholic hepatitis (just like other types of hepatitis) causes inflammation of the liver. Just like fatty liver, it happens after long-term heavy drinking. It often has no early symptoms, but later symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain, tenderness or swelling
- Loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
Whether or not you can reverse liver damage from alcoholic hepatitis depends on how severe it is. As hepatitis gets worse, it can form scar tissue in the liver. And once there’s serious scarring, the damage may not be reversible. But the outcomes from alcoholic hepatitis vary from person to person — so always talk with your doctor if you have concerns about this liver problem.
Can You Reverse Liver Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is a late stage of liver scarring. It makes your liver shrink and harden. As cirrhosis gets worse, it makes it harder for your liver to do its job. Toxic substances that a healthy liver would usually filter out of your blood can instead build up in your body. You may also have problems with blood clotting and bleeding.
Unfortunately, liver damage from cirrhosis is not reversible. But if you stop drinking, you may be able to prevent further scarring and damage. In severe cases, you may need a liver transplant to survive. In order to qualify for a transplant, you’ll have to stop drinking and agree to follow a strict set of rules after the transplant to keep the new liver healthy.
Cirrhosis also raises your risk for liver cancer and other serious health problems. And you can have cirrhosis for years without knowing it. So if you’re concerned about liver problems like cirrhosis, talk to your doctor to find out if you have liver damage.
So, Can You Reverse Liver Damage From Drinking? It Depends.
Heavy drinking can lead to severe liver problems and even death. And once there’s scarring in your liver, the damage may not be reversible. But if you stop drinking in time, you may be able to partly reverse mild liver damage. Talk with your doctor about your risk for liver problems and what to do next.
Remember, prevention is the best medicine. So if you choose to drink, drink only in moderation — and avoid the heavy drinking that can harm your liver. And if you need help for alcohol use disorder, find a doctor or program to help you stop drinking.
- “Alcoholic Liver Disease” via StatPearls
- “Treatment Options for Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease” via World Journal of Gastroenterology
- “Reversal of Liver Cirrhosis: Current Evidence and Expectations” via Korean Journal of Internal Medicine
- “Treatment of Alcoholic Liver Disease” via Gastroenterology & Hepatology