Updated on February 15, 2024
8 min read

Liver Pain After Drinking Alcohol: What It Means and What to Do

Key Takeaways

Why Does My Liver Hurt After Drinking Alcohol?

Most people’s livers can handle a moderate amount of alcohol. However, drinking too much alcohol puts a heavy load on your liver and creates harmful enzymes. If this happens too often, it can cause liver damage.

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Liver Pain and Alcoholic Liver Disease

Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to three types of liver disease that occur in stages, which may overlap. It starts with fatty liver disease, which develops when fat builds up in the liver cells.

This then progresses into mild and then acute alcoholic hepatitis. This refers to an inflammation of the liver that can lead to worse liver-related damage.

Eventually, the inflammation leads to permanent scarring of the liver. This is referred to as alcoholic cirrhosis. Throughout all these stages, you'll experience pain.

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Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

Early symptoms of liver damage from alcohol include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Intensifying pain
  • Jaundice

These symptoms will continue as the damage progresses. At the point of cirrhosis, you can experience:

  • High blood pressure
  • Portal hypertension (black stools, ascites, reduced blood components)
  • Liver scarring
  • Kidney failure
  • Esophageal bleeding
  • Cancer

What Does Liver Pain Feel Like?

Pain in the liver can manifest as pain in the right side of your abdomen. It also can occur in the front center of your belly, back, or shoulders. It can sometimes be confused with stomach pain.

When to See a Doctor for Liver Pain

Liver damage can lead to serious complications, including death. However, medical care and lifestyle changes can treat most liver diseases effectively.

You should seek medical treatment if:

  • Your stool and urine appear darker
  • Your eyes or skin are changing color
  • Your appetite is reduced, or you feel full after only a few bites
  • You feel pain in the upper right side of your abdomen
  • Your right shoulder hurts

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Potential Causes of Sore Liver After Drinking

There are several reasons your liver might hurt after drinking alcohol. For example:

1. Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Binge drinking can lead to fatty liver disease or liver inflammation over time, both of which cause pain. This happens because drinking too much alcohol can strain the liver. Because there's excessive alcohol in your body, the liver cannot metabolize all of it.

2. Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a condition that causes liver inflammation. Most people develop hepatitis from a viral infection.

Exposure to certain medications or toxins, like alcohol, can lead to hepatitis. It can also happen due to an autoimmune system problem.

There are five strains of hepatitis (A, B, C, D, and E), each caused by a different virus. Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne infections, while Hepatitis D co-exists with Hepatitis B.

3. Liver Damage

Liver damage is a term that includes a variety of issues that might arise with the liver. Damaged livers are unable to perform their designated functions.

In most cases, early symptoms of mild liver damage are unnoticeable. But when the liver is more than 75 percent damaged, there will be a decrease in function.

Many cases of liver damage are linked to alcohol consumption. Estimates show about 10 to 15% of Americans who drink heavily will develop alcoholic liver disease, which causes liver damage.

5. Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty Liver Disease is one of the earliest stages of alcohol-related liver disease. It occurs when fat builds up in liver cells. In its earliest stages, it causes only mild to moderate pain.

6. Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a term that covers a range of liver problems that aren't linked to alcohol. However, if you have NAFLD, alcohol can worsen the condition, causing pain.

NAFLD symptoms are mild and usually include fatigue and pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen. As it progresses, symptoms include:

  • Ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen that causes swelling and/or pain)
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Enlarged blood vessels near the skin’s surface
  • Jaundice
  • Red palms

In its earliest stages, NAFLD is reversible. Left untreated, it will eventually lead to liver inflammation or steatohepatitis. Over time, this causes cirrhosis (liver scarring) and negatively affects liver function.

7. Fibrosis and Cirrhosis

Fibrosis refers to healthy liver tissue being replaced by scar tissue which hardens the liver and interferes with its function. On the other hand, Cirrhosis refers to severe scarring in the liver, possibly leading to:

  • Internal bleeding
  • Ascites
  • Encephalopathy
  • Kidney failure
  • Permanent liver damage
  • Brain impairment

Both of these conditions can be caused by or worsened by alcohol. Studies show that approximately 10 percent of heavy drinkers are at risk for cirrhosis. Pain tends to be moderate to severe at this stage and increases after someone consumes alcohol.

8. Hemochromatosis

Hemochromatosis is when the body absorbs too much iron from food. It can be life-threatening. For people with hemochromatosis, consuming alcohol can pose a high risk of liver damage.

9. Liver Cancer

Long-term alcohol use is linked to an elevated risk of liver cancer. An excessive amount of alcohol damages the liver. Over time, the liver becomes inflamed, and eventually, there is scarring.

The more damaged someone’s liver is, the greater the risk of developing cancer. Furthermore, long-term use of alcohol also increases a person’s risk of colon and rectal cancer. 

Treatment For Liver Pain 

The best way to treat liver pain after drinking is to avoid alcohol. Early-stage alcohol-related liver disease reverses when you abstain.

Even if you stop drinking alcohol, seeking a medical evaluation is important if you’ve experienced liver pain. Your doctor will assess your liver health, possibly via a liver function test (blood test) or liver biopsy, and rule out non-alcohol-related causes of the pain.

Treatment options vary based on the cause of liver pain and include:

Lifestyle and Diet Changes

Incorporating exercise and adding healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables into your diet improves liver pain. Adding high-fiber foods and reducing sugar, salt, refined carbohydrates, and trans fats also helps. And, of course, curbing alcohol consumption is the best lifestyle change to make.

Home Remedies

Some dietary modifications that help maintain liver health and reduce liver pain include:

  • Papaya juice
  • Bland foods
  • Buttermilk
  • Dark chocolate
  • Carrot juice

Medications

Medications can target the cause of liver pain. For example, if the pain is from alcohol-induced hepatitis, corticosteroids help reduce inflammation. Nutritional support is also important to keep the liver functioning well.

Liver Transplant or Surgery

Liver transplants and liver surgery are used only in extreme liver disease, cancer, and liver failure cases.

What Helps With Managing Liver Pain After Drinking?

If you wake up with liver pain after a night of drinking, drink plenty of water as soon as possible. Avoid heavy, fatty foods for a few days and sit up straight to alleviate pressure on the liver.

Sometimes liver pain will go away if you make certain lifestyle changes like diet, abstinence from alcohol, and weight loss. If the problem persists for a full day, contact a healthcare professional.

What Does the Liver Do?

The liver is an organ that handles various tasks in the body. This includes:

  • Processing fats
  • Making proteins
  • Storing glycogen

It also removes toxins, like alcohol, from your body. The stomach and intestines absorb alcohol before traveling to the liver.

The liver then metabolizes the alcohol and breaks them down into various chemicals. These chemicals are flushed from the body through your lungs, urinary tract, and sweat. 

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

If you're wondering if you have a drinking problem, this self-assessment can help you. These questions are used by doctors and are taken from the DSM-V. However, self-assessments are not an adequate substitute for professional assessment.

  1. In the last year, have you continued to drink more than you meant to? (Larger amounts of alcohol or over a longer period of time?)
  2. In the last year, have you found it difficult to limit your excessive drinking?
  3. In the last year, have you spent a lot of time obtaining, drinking, or recovering from alcohol?
  4. Have you felt cravings or strong urges to drink in the last year?
  5. In the last year, have you found yourself letting obligations and responsibilities like work, school, and relationships with friends and family fall to the wayside?
  6. In the last year, have you continued to consume alcohol despite alcohol-induced social or interpersonal issues caused by alcohol?
  7. In the last year, have you stopped or slowed down attending important social, work, or recreational activities due to alcohol use?
  8. In the last year, have you continued to use alcohol in situations that can cause you physical harm?
  9. In the last year, have you continued to use alcohol despite knowing it is harming you physically, psychologically, or socially?
  10. In the last year, have you developed a high tolerance for alcohol that requires you to drink more and more to achieve the same effect?
  11. In the last year, have you experienced any alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, irritability, or tremors (delirium tremens)?

According to the DSM-5, alcohol use disorders are classified as mild, moderate, and severe. If you answered "yes" to

  • 2 to 3 questions, you may have a mild alcohol use disorder
  • 4 to 5 questions, you may have a moderate alcohol use disorder
  • 6 or more questions, you may have a severe alcohol use disorder

Alcohol & Liver Disease Statistics

90

Percent

Of people who drink more than 40g of alcohol per day will develop steatosis (fatty liver).

10-15

Percent

Of alcoholics will develop cirrhosis (advanced liver disease).

90

Percent

Of people survive cirrhosis if they quit drinking. Only 70 percent of those that don't quit survive.

Summary

Mixing NyQuil and alcohol is dangerous and can have serious consequences. It increases the chance of an overdose, liver damage, impaired immune system, and addiction.

Moreover, you shouldn't use NyQuil as a sleep aid or for long-term treatment of symptoms. If you take more than the recommended dose, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Talking to your doctor before taking NyQuil and other medications is best. They can help you understand the possible risks and decide if it's a safe choice for you.

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Updated on February 15, 2024

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