Alcoholic hepatitis occurs when the liver is damaged by the alcohol you drink. Just how alcohol damages the liver -— and why it does so only in a minority of heavy drinkers — isn't clear. What is known is that the process of breaking down ethanol — the alcohol in beer, wine and liquor — produces highly toxic chemicals, such as acetaldehyde. These chemicals trigger inflammation that destroys liver cells. Over time, web-like scars and small knots of tissue replace healthy liver tissue, interfering with the liver's ability to function. This irreversible scarring, called cirrhosis, is the final stage of alcoholic liver disease.
Heavy alcohol use can lead to liver disease, and the risk increases with the length of time and amount of alcohol you drink. But because many people who drink heavily or binge drink never develop alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis, it's likely that factors other than alcohol play a role. These include: