Alcohol-Related Pancreatitis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
Last Updated: September 8, 2023
Pancreatitis caused by alcohol can lead to painful and serious symptoms. But there are treatment options for this condition.
Pancreatitis is inflammation that affects your pancreas. This condition can be incredibly painful and make it very difficult to eat. It can also lead to long-term health problems and complications, even being potentially fatal in some cases. If you drink alcohol frequently or heavily, it is important to understand what alcohol-related pancreatitis is and how to avoid it.
What Is Alcoholic Pancreatitis?
Alcoholic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas due to consuming alcohol. Often, it requires heavy drinking to cause pancreatitis. This condition generally occurs when the digestive enzymes the pancreas releases attack the pancreas itself. Called “autodigestion,” this causes the pancreas to begin to digest itself, leading to inflammation.
Causes of Alcoholic Pancreatitis
Drinking alcohol is the cause of alcoholic pancreatitis. Typically, alcoholic pancreatitis develops from heavy alcohol use, although a single episode of binge drinking can also cause it. Medical experts believe alcohol actually causes pancreatitis by blocking the ducts through which the pancreas releases digestive enzymes into your intestines. This keeps them in the pancreas, where they begin to break down the tissues of the pancreas instead of food, causing inflammation.
Alcoholic pancreatitis is a problem many people who drink alcohol encounter. Over 275,000 people are admitted to hospitals in the United States for pancreatitis each year. This problem is widespread, and it is important to be able to recognize it and understand how it is treated.
Alcoholic Pancreatitis Symptoms
Alcoholic pancreatitis can lead to unpleasant symptoms. These include:
- Severe, dull pain around the top of your stomach
- Elevated temperature
These symptoms will generally come on suddenly. Because pancreatic enzymes are released to digest food, the pain caused by pancreatitis can often occur right after eating food, especially foods higher in fats.
Acute vs. Chronic Alcoholic Pancreatitis
Acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis can both be caused by alcohol use. Acute pancreatitis is a single, severe episode of pancreatitis that goes away with treatment. Acute pancreatitis can be deadly in severe cases but will not typically lead to major long-term health problems.
Chronic pancreatitis can occur with repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis and can cause pancreatitis to become a long-term problem. It is not generally quite as severe as an acute episode of pancreatitis, although these will commonly happen with chronic pancreatitis. The problems caused by chronic pancreatitis are serious, as it creates chronic pain and affects your pancreas’s function. This shortens your lifespan, decreases your quality of life and increases your risk of pancreatic cancer.
Treatment for Alcoholic Pancreatitis
The best treatment for alcoholic pancreatitis in most situations is to stop drinking alcohol. Attempting to treat pancreatitis while still drinking alcohol is like trying to put out a fire while also pouring gas on it. Stopping alcohol removes the underlying cause of pancreatitis, allowing other treatments to be effective.
Acute pancreatitis can be treated using IV fluids, dietary changes, pain medications and other interventions that should be performed in a hospital. Chronic pancreatitis is more difficult to treat and may require more complicated treatments that focus on improving your quality and duration of life rather than removing the underlying problem.
Living with Alcoholic Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis is a dangerous condition that requires hospitalization to treat correctly. Someone with alcoholic pancreatitis is likely to die sooner than normal if they do not stop using alcohol and avoid future pancreas-related problems. Pancreatitis should be something that you try not to live with, instead taking steps to avoid developing it again in the future.
If you are living with chronic pancreatitis, it is very important that you seek medical care and follow any instructions provided by your healthcare team. Managing chronic pancreatitis often requires making important lifestyle changes. Chronic pancreatitis can make life very uncomfortable and increases your risk of premature death. Adhering to medical treatments and lifestyle changes can improve this situation.
Get Help for Alcohol Addiction in Georgia
While most people with alcoholic pancreatitis know that stopping alcohol is necessary for their long-term health, this can be a difficult step to take when an alcohol addiction is present. At The Recovery Village Atlanta, we know how hard it can be to stop using alcohol and what it takes to overcome addiction. Contact us today to let us help you understand your options and how you can achieve a life free from alcohol addiction.
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Klochkov, Anton, et al. “Alcoholic Pancreatitis.” StatPearls, May 16, 2023. Accessed August 9, 2023.
Apte, Minoti V.; Wilson, Jeremy S.; & Korsten, Mark A. “Alcohol-Related Pancreatic Damage.” Alcohol Health and Research World, 1997. Accessed August 9, 2023.
Ashraf, Hamza, et al. “A Clinical Overview of Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis: The Medical and Surgical Management.” Cureus, November 20, 2021. Accessed August 9, 2023.