Although alcohol intake and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection are the major determinants of liver cirrhosis (LC) in Western countries, the joint effect of these two factors on LC risk has not yet been adequately studied. We used data from two hospital-based case-control studies performed in Italy. Cases were 285 cirrhotic patients admitted for the first time to district hospitals for liver decompensation. Controls were 417 patients admitted during the same period, and in the same hospitals as the cases, for acute diseases unrelated to alcohol. Alcohol consumption was expressed as lifetime daily alcohol intake (LDAI). Serum HCV antibodies (anti-HCV) were detected using a second-generation test and recombinant immunoblotting assay. We found a dose-effect relationship between LDAI and the risk of LC in both anti-HCV-negative and -positive subjects. Considering the extreme LDAI categories (LDAI = 0 g, lifetime teetotalers, and LDAI = 175 g), the LC odds ratios increased from 1.0 (reference category) to 15.0 (95% CI, 7.1-31.7) and from 9.2 (95% CI, 2.0-43.2) to 147.2 (95% CI, 42.1-514.3) in anti-HCV-negative and -positive patients respectively. The interaction between LDAI and HCV showed an additive structure for LDAI < 50 g/day and a multiplicative structure for consumption > 125 g/day. Alcohol intake and HCV infection are independent risk factors for symptomatic liver cirrhosis, each being sufficient to induce the disease. In subjects with high alcohol intake, the coexistence of HCV infection multiplies the alcohol-associated risk of cirrhosis. In subjects with low alcohol intake, other factors could be involved.