There are three main stages of alcoholism associated with liver disease, states the NHS: alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. Although these stages are based on gradual progression, they often overlap and some heavy drinkers may bypass the second stage.
The first stage of alcohol-related liver disease, alcoholic fatty liver disease, is characterized by fat deposits on the liver and is caused by heavy short-term drinking, says the American Liver Foundation. It can be diagnosed by elevated liver enzymes although liver function remains normal. This earliest stage is most often asymptomatic and may be reversible with abstinence of alcohol.
The second stage of alcohol-related liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, is caused when the fat deposits on the liver are associated with inflammation and mild scarring of the liver, states the American Liver Foundation. In this stage, liver enzymes are elevated and liver function tests are abnormal. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fever and jaundice. A mild form of alcoholic hepatitis may be reversed with abstinence of alcohol, while severe cases often lead to liver failure and death.
The third and most advanced stage of alcohol-related liver disease is alcoholic cirrhosis and occurs when the normal structure of the liver is disrupted by severe scarring or when hard scar tissue replaces soft healthy tissue, according to the American Liver Foundation. It is not reversible, but further damage may be prevented by immediate and lifelong abstinence of alcohol.