Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis

Alcohol can damage the pancreas by causing a disease called pancreatitis.

Chronic alcohol consumption wreaks havoc on your organs, including your pancreas. The pancreas is a small organ that makes digestive enzymes and hormones. It promotes healthy digestion and regulates your blood sugar.

Alcohol can damage the pancreas by causing a disease called pancreatitis.

What Is Pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. It’s usually caused by gallstones (solid materials that build up in the gallbladder) or alcohol consumption.

How Does Alcohol Cause Pancreatitis?

Researchers have not determined how exactly alcohol causes pancreatitis. However, it’s probably related to the way alcohol impacts acinar cells (cells in the pancreas that make digestive enzymes).

The byproducts of alcohol can damage these cells and prevent the pancreas from releasing digestive enzymes into the small intestine. The enzymes then remain in the pancreatic ducts and start “digesting” pancreatic tissue, causing serious damage.

You face a higher risk of alcohol-induced pancreatitis if you abuse alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol abuse occurs when a woman has more than one alcoholic drink a day or a man has more than two alcoholic drinks a day.

Many people who abuse alcohol engage in binge drinking or heavy alcohol use.

Binge drinking occurs when a woman has 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours or a man has 5 or more drinks in about 2 hours. Heavy alcohol use occurs when a woman has more than 3 drinks a day (or more than 7 drinks a week) or a man has more than 4 drinks a day (or more than 14 drinks a week).

Types Of Pancreatitis

There are two types of pancreatitis: acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis.

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is an episode of inflammation that usually lasts a few days to a few weeks. Symptoms come on suddenly and may include:

  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal swelling
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • back pain
  • increased heart rate

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is long-term inflammation that lasts for months or years. In most cases, it results from repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis, which can permanently damage the pancreas. Common symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal swelling
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever
  • jaundice
  • back pain
  • pale, oily stools
  • weight loss

When left untreated, chronic pancreatitis causes an increased risk of life-threatening health problems, including malnutrition, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, bile duct obstruction, sepsis, and organ failure.

Treatment Options

If you experience symptoms of acute or chronic pancreatitis, contact your healthcare provider. They can help you find the right treatment based on your symptoms.

If you have acute pancreatitis, your treatment plan may include:

  • pain medications
  • diet changes
  • antibiotics to treat pancreas infections
  • intravenous fluids to treat dehydration
  • surgery to remove damaged or dead pancreatic tissue

If you have chronic pancreatitis, your treatment plan may include:

  • pain medications
  • pancreatic enzyme supplements to ensure you get proper nutrition
  • insulin to treat co-occurring diabetes
  • surgery to remove damaged or dead pancreatic tissue

In addition, whether you have acute or chronic pancreatitis, you need to control your alcohol intake. If you have acute pancreatitis, your doctor will likely recommend that you quit drinking for at least six months. After that period, ask your doctor how much alcohol you can safely drink.

If you have chronic pancreatitis, your doctor will likely recommend that you never drink again. That’s because alcohol consumption is the most common cause of chronic pancreatitis, and continued drinking significantly worsens the disease.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

You might feel unable to stop or reduce your alcohol consumption. In this case, you may be diagnosed with alcohol addiction (also called alcohol use disorder). This disease causes symptoms such as:

  • frequent cravings for alcohol
  • tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent drinks to feel the effects of alcohol)
  • physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and anxiety) when you don’t drink alcohol)
  • loss of interest in activities that don’t involve alcohol

If you or someone you love shows these symptoms, seek help at an addiction treatment center. When left untreated, alcohol addiction will not only worsen your pancreatitis but also raise your risk of other health issues, including depression, cirrhosis (liver disease), and certain cancers.

Some people require inpatient addiction treatment (meaning they live at the treatment center), while others benefit from outpatient treatment (meaning they live at home and regularly visit the treatment center).

In general, inpatient care is recommended for more severe cases of alcohol addiction, while outpatient care may work for people with milder cases.

Whether inpatient or outpatient, alcohol addiction treatment programs offer services such as:

  • medical detox
  • mental health counseling
  • support groups
  • wellness activities, such as exercise, meditation, and arts and crafts

To learn more about alcohol addiction treatment, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. We offer a variety of recovery-focused services to help you stay alcohol-free.

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

Published on

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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