BACKGROUND The tumor necrosis factor alpha gene (TNFA) has been recently associated to alcoholic steatohepatitis. We have analyzed the distribution of genotypes and alleles of two polymorphisms at positions -238 and -308 in the promoter region of the TNFA gene in a Spanish male population of alcoholics with and without alcoholic liver cirrhosis. METHODS 149 male alcoholics (84 without alcoholic liver disease, and 65 with alcoholic liver cirrhosis) and 90 control subjects were included. Genotyping was done by polymerase chain reaction and digestion with restriction enzymes. RESULTS No significant differences in the distribution of genotypes and alleles of the -308 TNFA gene polymorphism were observed between alcoholics and non-alcoholics, or between alcoholics with liver cirrhosis and those without liver disease. However, we found an association between the -238 TNFA polymorphism and alcoholic liver cirrhosis; the frequency of the heterozygous genotype being significantly higher in alcoholics with cirrhosis than in those without liver damage. CONCLUSION The -238 TNFA-A allele is associated with a higher risk to develop alcoholic liver cirrhosis. This polymorphism could be considered as a genetic factors that confer predisposition to suffer liver cirrhosis in the alcoholic population of Castile and León.