Is Alcoholic Hepatitis Contagious?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020

Hepatitis is a disease of the liver and has many causes. Some types of hepatitis can be transmitted to others through various means, while others cannot. It is important to seek help to stop drinking if you have been diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, and there is help available.

Is Alcoholic Hepatitis Contagious?

Hepatitis is a disease that is characterized by inflammation of the liver. There are viral and noninfectious forms of hepatitis. Alcoholic hepatitis is a non-infectious form of hepatitis — it is not caused by a virus.

Alcoholic hepatitis is a chemically induced form of hepatitis, cannot be spread from person to person, and therefore, is not contagious.

Alcoholic hepatitis is one of the stages of alcohol-related liver disease and most commonly occurs in individuals who have been drinking alcohol excessively over a long period of time. Prolonged alcohol abuse damages the liver cells, creating scar tissue on the liver. This tissue does not function like healthy, functioning liver tissue.

If left untreated, alcoholic hepatitis can develop into cirrhosis and is considered a medical emergency. Alcoholic liver disease is a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention.

Causes Of Alcoholic Hepatitis

The liver is only capable of processing small amounts of alcohol at a time. Alcoholic hepatitis is the result of a person drinking so much alcohol that the liver cannot filter it all out.

An additional problem that contributes to alcoholic hepatitis is that when the liver breaks down alcohol, it metabolizes into toxic chemicals. These chemicals irritate the liver, cause inflammation, and destroy healthy cells in the liver.

The liver begins to be covered in scar tissue, which interrupts normal liver function (this is alcoholic hepatitis). If drinking continues, the scarring becomes permanent, resulting in cirrhosis.

Symptoms Of Alcoholic Hepatitis

Many of the symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis look like other health issues.

It is important to seek the attention of a health care professional for a proper diagnosis if any of the following symptoms exist:

  • jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • nausea
  • fever
  • vomiting blood (looks like coffee grounds)
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss due to malnutrition
  • tenderness or pain in the abdominal area
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • dark-colored urine
  • ascites (fluid build-up in abdomen)

Types Of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

There are three stages of alcoholic-related liver disease (ARLD). When a person begins exhibiting signs or symptoms of the stages of ARLD, the person should quit drinking immediately and seek medical attention.

Stage 1: Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

During the first stage of ARLD, fat builds up around the liver. The person may not show signs at this stage. If a person stops drinking while in this stage, they can reverse the damage to the liver.

Stage 2: Alcoholic Hepatitis

In the second stage of ARLD, the liver swells and there is some scarring of liver tissue. Mild cases can be reversed with not consuming alcohol and treatment. Severe cases can lead to liver failure.

Stage 3: Alcoholic Cirrhosis

This is the third and most severe stage of ARLD. Critical scarring of the liver is irreversible and can be life-threatening. Severe cases of alcoholic cirrhosis are at risk for liver failure and typically require a liver transplant.

People who have experienced any of these stages of alcohol-related liver disease are at a greater risk for developing liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma.

Additionally, a person with pre-existing forms of hepatitis is at high risk for developing alcoholic hepatitis, even with moderate alcohol consumption.

Diagnosing Alcoholic Hepatitis

To properly diagnose a person with alcoholic hepatitis, a physical exam should be performed by a medical professional. During the physical, the treatment provider will discuss a full medical history, including a detailed history of alcohol abuse.


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The doctor may also order liver function tests or other blood tests if an individual shows abnormalities during the physical exam, or if the patient has a history of alcohol abuse or addiction.

An abdominal ultrasound may be conducted to examine any fluid that could be present in the abdomen, possible liver damage, and any tumors that might be active.

A liver biopsy may also be administered to resolve any other irregularities that could be detected during an exam.

Is Alcoholic Hepatitis Contagious Sexually?

Alcoholic hepatitis is not contagious. Therefore there are zero risks of spreading alcoholic hepatitis by any means, including sexual activities. Alcoholic hepatitis, unlike viral types of hepatitis, is developed from chemical effects that alcohol has on the liver and is classified as non-contagious hepatitis.

Other examples of non-contagious hepatitis include:

  • toxic hepatitis — similar to alcoholic hepatitis, the liver is damaged by the abuse of chemicals, drugs (prescription or over-the-counter), or nutritional supplements
  • autoimmune hepatitis — the body or immune system attacks the liver, treating it as a foreign object

Viral hepatitis forms, which are contagious:

  • hepatitis A virus (HAV) — most commonly transferred through consuming water or food contaminated by feces of someone with HAV
  • hepatitis B virus (HBV) — transferred through infected bodily fluids like blood or semen, intravenous drug use, or sex with someone infected increases your chance for HBV
  • hepatitis C virus (HCV) — the most common form of viral hepatitis, transferred intravenously, though contact with body fluids, or through sexual intercourse with someone infected

Treatment For Hepatitis: Viral And Non-Contagious

There is no required treatment for hepatitis A, since it’s deemed a short-term illness. There are vaccines available to prevent HAV.

There is also a vaccination for hepatitis B that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for all newborns. If chronic hepatitis B develops, there is treatment with antiviral medications and regular medical assessments.

Hepatitis C can also be managed with a regimented schedule of antiviral medications and regular check-ups, however, there is no vaccine. In some cases, people have been cured of Hep C.

Autoimmune hepatitis can be treated with corticosteroids along with other immunosuppressive drugs.

Alcoholic hepatitis treatment varies on the severity of the disease. In all forms of alcohol-related liver disease, the person must stop drinking immediately. Failure to do so will only progress the disease and put a person at risk for cirrhosis or even liver failure.

Medications are available to reduce liver inflammation along with vitamins and supplements. If severe alcoholic hepatitis is diagnosed, a liver transplant may be recommended.

Treatment For Alcoholism

Because it is important to stop drinking immediately if there is a diagnosis for alcohol-related liver disease, including alcoholic hepatitis, it is strongly encouraged to seek an alcohol addiction treatment facility to aid in the process.

Reach out to our trained professionals today so we can assist in locating a rehab facility that meets the needs of you or your loved one.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on December 14, 2020


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