Liver abnormalities in drug and substance abusers

Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2013 Aug;27(4):577-96. doi: 10.1016/j.bpg.2013.08.001. Epub 2013 Aug 22.


Drug and substance abuse remains a major medical problem. Alcohol use, abuse and dependence are highly prevalent conditions. Alcohol related liver disease can present as simple steatosis, steatohepatitis, alcoholic hepatitis or liver cirrhosis. Paracetamol hepatotoxicity secondary to accidental or deliberate overdose is another common problem. While the adverse cardiovascular, neurological, renal and psychiatric consequences of various illicit substance abuses are widely studied and publicized, less attention has been directed towards possible hepatotoxic effects. Illicit drug abuse can cause a range of liver abnormalities ranging from asymptomatic derangement of liver function tests to fulminant hepatic failure. This article reviews the epidemiology, risk factors, clinical manifestations, pathogenesis, investigations, management and prognostic factors of alcohol related liver disease and paracetamol hepatotoxicity as well as the current knowledge pertaining to hepatotoxicity of the more commonly used illicit substances including cannabis, amphetamine type stimulants, cocaine, khat chewing and complementary and alternate medicine.

Keywords: Alcohol steatosis; Alcoholic hepatitis; Amphetamine; Cannabis; Cirrhosis; Cocaine; Complementary and alternative medicine; Khat.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects*
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Liver
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Alcoholic / etiology*
  • Liver Function Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*


  • Acetaminophen