Advances in the understanding and management of alcohol-related liver disease

BMJ. 2023 Nov 20:383:e077090. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2023-077090.


Alcohol-related liver disease (ALD) is a major cause of liver-related morbidity and mortality. Epidemiological trends indicate recent and predicted increases in the burden of disease. Disease progression is driven by continued alcohol exposure on a background of genetic predisposition together with environmental cofactors. Most individuals present with advanced disease despite a long history of excessive alcohol consumption and multiple missed opportunities to intervene. Increasing evidence supports the use of non-invasive tests to screen for and identify disease at earlier stages. There is a definite role for public health measures to reduce the overall burden of disease. At an individual level, however, the ability to influence subsequent disease course by modifying alcohol consumption or the underlying pathogenic mechanisms remains limited due to a comparative lack of effective, disease-modifying medical interventions. Abstinence from alcohol is the key determinant of outcome in established ALD and the cornerstone of clinical management. In those with decompensated ALD, liver transplant has a clear role. There is consensus that abstinence from alcohol for an arbitrary period should not be the sole determinant in a decision to transplant. An increasing understanding of the mechanisms by which alcohol causes liver disease in susceptible individuals offers the prospect of new therapeutic targets for disease-modifying drugs. Successful translation will require significant public and private investment in a disease area which has traditionally been underfunded when compared to its overall prevalence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic* / diagnosis
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic* / epidemiology
  • Liver Diseases, Alcoholic* / etiology
  • Liver Transplantation* / adverse effects