Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD)

Alcohol-related liver disease is liver damage that is caused by drinking too much alcohol. There are several stages of alcohol-related liver disease ranging from mild to severe, and it usually develops over many years.

Symptoms such as weight loss, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), and swelling of the tummy (ascites) are often only seen when the disease is quite advanced, as the liver is very good at repairing itself.

Alcohol-related liver disease is sometimes referred to as ARLD.

Facts about alcohol-related liver disease

  • Every time we drink alcohol, the liver has to filter it in order to break it down and remove it from the body. Some liver cells die during this process, which is why the liver needs a break from alcohol to allow it to regenerate and make new cells.
  • Drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time means the liver doesn’t get a chance to recover. This can result in serious and permanent damage.
  • A common myth is that you have to be an ‘alcoholic’ to damage your liver. The term ‘alcoholic’ is misleading as alcohol dependency is a spectrum.
  • Combined data from the 2012 to 2014 Health Survey for England indicates that 20.8% of the population drink at risky levels (defined as up to 35 units per week for women, and up to 50 units per week for men).
  • The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that a liver scan (transient elastography) is offered to people who drink alcohol at the levels outlined here. 35 units is the equivalent of 3.5 bottles of wine, while 50 units is around 20 pints of beer.
  • Alcohol consumption is the most common cause of liver disease in the UK, accounting for 60% of all liver disease cases.
  • Every year, admissions to hospital because of liver disease rise.  Figures from NHS Digital show a 57% increase in the number of hospital admissions for people diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease since 2004/5, from 13,201 to 20,751 in 2016/17.
  • The increase in admissions and deaths is largely accounted for by higher levels of alcohol consumption over past decades, which has shifted from moderate strength beer sold in pubs to strong lager, cider, wine and spirits sold in supermarkets to be drunk at home. In addition, alcohol is more affordable than ever in the UK and is now 64% more affordable than it was 30 years ago.