In patients with chronic hepatitis C, alcohol consumption has been proposed as a risk factor for the progression of liver disease; however, evidence for this remains conflicting. Two hundred thirty-four anti-hepatitis C virus (HCV)-positive patients who had a liver biopsy performed within the past 24 months were studied. Demographic data and information on risk factors were recorded. A detailed lifetime alcohol consumption history was obtained. Viral studies included HCV viral titer and HCV genotype. Mean age (+/- SEM) of the group was 40.8 +/- 0.7 years. One hundred sixty-six (71%) were male. A risk factor for HCV infection was found in 195 patients (86%). Genotype distribution was: 1b: 22%; 1a: 15%; 1(nonsubtypable): 15%; 3a: 34%; and 2: 7%. Fifty (21%) patients had cirrhosis. Patients with cirrhosis were older (51.6 +/- 1.8 years) than those with chronic hepatitis (37.6 +/- 0.6 years; P = .0001), were infected at an older age (25.9 +/- 2.0 vs. 20.9 +/- 0.6 years; P = .001), and had a longer duration of infection (20.5 +/- 1.3 vs. 16.2 +/- 0.5 years; P = .0008). Patients with cirrhosis had a greater total lifetime alcohol consumption (288,765 +/- 58,115 g) than those with chronic hepatitis (189,941 +/- 15,453 g; P = .018). Cirrhotic patients also had greater total alcohol consumption during the period of infection with HCV (240,962 +/- 63,756 g vs. 146,510 +/- 12,862 g; P = .02). On multivariate analysis, subject age and total alcohol consumption were independently associated with the presence of cirrhosis. Total lifetime alcohol consumption is a risk factor for the progression of liver disease caused by HCV.