How Your Drinking Patterns May Affect Your Liver

Cirrhosis risk was more affected by daily and recent drinking than lifetime alcohol intake

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Drinking too much can be unhealthy for the liver, but taking a break may help. Daily drinking may increase cirrhosis risk, and for those who do drink, wine may be the least damaging option.

A new study has found that daily drinking — regardless of the amount — increased the risk of cirrhosis among men more than less frequent drinking. The authors of this study also noted that wine seemed to be less of a health threat than beer or liquor. Also, recent drinking may pose a higher cirrhosis risk than alcohol intake earlier in life.

While heavy drinkers may face an increased risk of cirrhosis, frequency of drinking may also play a significant role.

"Regarding alcoholic cirrhosis, daily drinking compared to drinking less frequently — for instance, drinking five to six days a week — increases the risk for the same amount of alcohol ingested per week,” said lead study author Gro Askgaard, MD, of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, in an interview with dailyRx News.

So men drinking five to six days and not all seven saw a significant decrease in their risks. This study reported 30 cirrhosis cases in the five- to six-day-a-week male drinkers and 171 in the daily drinkers.

Cirrhosis is a late-stage scarring of the liver that can be brought on by chronic alcohol abuse. If the liver sustains too much damage, it cannot function.

Dr. Askgaard and colleagues analyzed data on around 56,000 patients between the ages of 50 and 64. They had participated in the Danish Cancer, Diet, and Health study (1993 to 2011). They reported their average alcohol intake per week and the types of alcohol they were drinking.

These patients also estimated how much they were drinking in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

A total of 257 men and 85 women developed alcoholic cirrhosis.

Dr. Askgaard and team noted that recent alcohol consumption was more of a predictor of cirrhosis than lifetime consumption. Men in their 40s and 50s who drank faced an increased risk — but not those in the younger age categories.

Women had similar results, but Dr. Askgaard and colleagues said that their numbers were not statistically strong enough to draw a conclusion.

Compared with beer and liquor, wine appeared to be tied to a lower risk of alcoholic cirrhosis for those who drank up to a moderate level.

Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, according to the US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Askgaard noted that the risk of alcoholic cirrhosis increased with increasing amounts of alcohol. Even light drinkers of 24 grams of alcohol per day (1.2 ounces of pure alcohol) were found to have this higher risk compared to lifetime abstainers. Most patients diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis have been drinking considerably more than 24 grams per day on average, Dr. Askgaard said.

“It is very important that these findings only concern risk of alcoholic cirrhosis since there is a different relationship between drinking frequency and risk of cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Askgaard said.

This study was published Jan. 26 in the Journal of Hepatology.

Dr. Askgaard and colleagues disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
January 25, 2015
Last Updated:
March 10, 2015