Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Written by Abby Doty

& Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Editorial Policy

Last Updated - 06/30/2023

View our editorial policy
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling (719) 602-0914 now.

Updated 06/30/2023

Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) is a common liver condition caused by excessive alcohol use, leading to fat accumulation in liver cells. Left untreated, AFLD can progress to more severe conditions like alcoholic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis. Understanding the causes, symptoms and treatment options can help you start managing AFLD and living a healthier life.

What Is Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

Long-term, excessive alcohol use can cause fat to accumulate in liver cells, resulting in alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver diseases and is also reversible. However, it may progress to more advanced liver diseases if left untreated.

When alcohol is consumed, it is broken down in the liver, causing inflammation and impairing liver cells. Continued alcohol use can impair the liver’s functions, such as detoxifying harmful substances, producing bile for digestion and regulating blood clotting.

Early signs of AFLD are subtle and may often go unnoticed. AFLD often produces no symptoms or only produces fatigue. If symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

Healthcare professionals may perform a series of tests to diagnose AFLD, including blood tests, imaging studies or even a liver biopsy if necessary. Treatment typically involves lifestyle modifications, such as quitting or reducing alcohol use, adopting a healthier diet and exercising regularly.

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) vs. Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD)

Both NAFLD and AFLD involve fat build-up in the liver cells, leading to adverse side effects. However, the underlying causes of each condition are different.

The progression of AFLD is generally faster than NAFLD. Alcohol use can rapidly progress the condition from simple fatty liver to alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis in a shorter amount of time. Conversely, NAFLD tends to be more gradual, with some people never progressing beyond the initial fatty liver stage.

Treatment strategies differ as well. For NAFLD, lifestyle interventions such as weight loss, dietary changes and regular physical activity are typically recommended to help reduce the amount of fat in the liver. In contrast, the primary treatment strategy for AFLD is abstinence from alcohol, along with a balanced diet and other supportive therapies.

Can Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Be Reversed?

Alcoholic fatty liver disease can be reversed. If alcohol use is stopped, the liver can eliminate the fatty build up and become completely healthy again.

To reverse AFLD, the most critical step is reducing or eliminating alcohol use altogether. Doing so allows the liver to recover from the damage inflicted by excessive alcohol use. Making other healthier lifestyle choices can also help reverse the effects of AFLD. A collaborative approach with the support of healthcare professionals, family and friends can help establish new, healthy habits to manage AFLD.

Treatment Options for Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

The first and most crucial step to treatment is quitting alcohol use. Abstaining from alcohol can prevent and reverse damage in the liver. However, there are also several measures someone may take to support recovery and a healthy, sober lifestyle.

  • Addiction treatment: Depending on the severity of someone’s relationship with alcohol, maintaining long-term sobriety may require supervised detox, counseling or support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
  • Healthy diet: Alongside quitting alcohol, a well-balanced diet can support the recovery of the liver. Replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains, fruits and vegetables and consuming lean protein sources like fish, chicken and legumes can support liver health.
  • Exercise: Regular physical movement, such as aerobic exercise and weight training, is another way to support recovery from AFLD. It can encourage weight loss and promote overall health.
  • Medication: In some cases, medication may also be prescribed to manage AFLD.  These medications typically address underlying health conditions that can contribute to fatty liver, such as high cholesterol, diabetes or hypertension. Ensuring that these health conditions are well-managed can prevent further damage to the liver and aid in the recovery process.

Overcome Alcoholism at the Recovery Village Palmer Lake

Alcohol addiction can affect a person’s mental, emotional and physical health — including alcoholic fatty liver disease. Seeking timely and effective treatment can prevent this damage and improve overall health. An addiction treatment program can provide a comprehensive approach to alcohol addiction and its impacts.

The Recovery Village Palmer Lake offers support by addressing the root causes of alcohol addiction and equipping patients with the tools and resources needed to make a successful recovery. Our highly skilled staff provides evidence-based treatment programs tailored to the unique needs of each individual, including:

  • Detoxification
  • Inpatient rehab
  • Partial hospitalization
  • Intensive outpatient
  • Research-based therapies, such as CBT, DBT and EMDR
  • Medication-assisted treatment, as needed
  • Recreational therapies, such as yoga

In the serene and supportive environment of The Recovery Village Palmer Lake, patients are cared for by a team of dedicated professionals committed to their well-being and overall success. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to learn about treatment for alcohol addiction and to start your recovery journey.

View Sources

Worman, Howard. “Approach to the Patient with Alcoholic Liver Disease.” Virtual Mentor, 2005. Accessed June 26, 2023.

American Liver Foundation. “How Liver Diseases Progress.” Updated March 2, 2023. Accessed June 26, 2023.

American Liver Foundation. “Alcohol-Related Liver Disease.” Updated March 17, 2023. Accessed June 26, 2023.

Toshikuni, Nobuyuki; Tsutsumi, Mikihiro; Arisawa, Tomiyasu. “Clinical differences between alcoholic l[…]fatty liver disease.” World journal of gastroenterology, July 14, 2014. Accessed June 26, 2023.

Osna, Natalia; Donohue, Terrence; Kharbanda, Kusum. “Alcoholic Liver Disease: Pathogenesis an[…] Current Management.” Alcohol Res., 2017. June 26, 2023.


Get your life back

Recovery is possible. Begin your journey today

Call Us Now Admissions Check Insurance

What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.