Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis: Causes, Effects & Treatment
Last Updated: November 3, 2023
Many treatment options are available to help those who drink excessively reduce their risk of alcohol-induced pancreatitis.
Alcohol-induced pancreatitis is a relatively common problem for those who drink heavily. This condition causes inflammation in your pancreas, pain and digestive issues that can be quite unpleasant and even dangerous. Anyone who drinks heavily should know the signs of alcoholic pancreatitis and what to do if it occurs.
What Is Alcoholic Pancreatitis?
Alcoholic pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas caused by alcohol use. The pancreas is a small organ under your stomach. It has several roles; one is releasing enzymes that help with digestion. When pancreatitis develops, the release of these enzymes is blocked, causing them to begin digestion in the pancreas. This leads to inflammation and pain that can be quite severe.
Because the digestive enzymes are produced and released in response to food, those with pancreatitis often find their pain worsens with eating, especially fatty foods that rely on pancreatic enzymes to digest properly. Pancreatitis can affect other functions of the pancreas, such as its ability to regulate blood sugar levels, and can lead to many health consequences.
Causes of Alcoholic Pancreatitis
There are several potential causes of pancreatitis; however, there is only one cause of alcoholic pancreatitis. Drinking alcohol is the sole cause of alcoholic pancreatitis. It is thought that alcohol can lead to obstruction of the ducts that the pancreas uses to release the digestive enzymes it produces, leading to pancreatitis.
Heavy, prolonged use of alcohol can greatly increase the risk of pancreatitis. Long-term alcohol use, however, is not necessary for alcohol to cause pancreatitis. Even a single episode of binge drinking can cause pancreatitis.
Signs & Symptoms of Alcoholic Pancreatitis
The primary sign of alcoholic pancreatitis is pain. Signs and symptoms of alcoholic pancreatitis can include:
- Dull, severe pain below the stomach
- Pain that is worse when eating or when eating fatty foods
- Nausea or vomiting
- White, fatty stools
Only a doctor can diagnose pancreatitis. If you suspect you have pancreatitis, you should seek medical help immediately.
Acute vs. Chronic Alcoholic Pancreatitis
There are two main types of alcoholic pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis is a single episode of pancreatitis. These episodes are more severe in the symptoms that they cause, but they only last for a few weeks if treated. Acute pancreatitis is dangerous; however, this danger subsides once the episode of pancreatitis is over.
Chronic pancreatitis is a more serious condition in which pancreatitis is persistently present. Someone with chronic pancreatitis will not have symptoms as severe as an acute episode of pancreatitis; however, the long duration of the symptoms can lead to serious health problems, increasing your risk of diabetes and pancreatic cancer. Chronic pancreatitis is likely to shorten your lifespan. As it often develops after repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis, doctors will typically encourage lifestyle changes during acute episodes so that you can avoid developing long-term, chronic pancreatitis.
Treatment Options for Alcoholic Pancreatitis
Alcohol pancreatitis is impossible to treat effectively unless you stop using alcohol. Because alcohol causes alcoholic pancreatitis, trying to treat it without quitting alcohol cannot be effective. The main intervention used to treat alcoholic pancreatitis is stopping alcohol use.
In addition to stopping alcohol, pancreatitis is treated by providing IV fluids and medications that reduce inflammation and help the body restore normal function to the pancreas. These medications require hospitalization, and typically, treating acute pancreatitis involves staying in a hospital for treatment.
Chronic pancreatitis is not easily treatable. Lifestyle changes and medications can help manage it, but it is not a condition that will go away with treatment. Regular medical care is necessary to reduce your chances of developing complications and help prolong your lifespan if it does develop.
Long-Term Effects of Alcoholic Pancreatitis
Acute pancreatitis is life-threatening without treatment and can even be dangerous with treatment. Once acute pancreatitis has passed, it does not typically create any major long-term effects. Acute pancreatitis does, however, increase your risk of developing chronic pancreatitis, which can have devastating long-term effects.
Chronic pancreatitis has long-term, lasting implications. It will create chronic pain that is always present and becomes worse from time to time. It is likely to lead to diabetes, requiring careful management of your blood sugar levels and increasing your risk of further health complications. It also increases your risk of pancreatic cancer, one of the most fatal forms of cancer.
Seek Alcohol Addiction in Missouri Today
Pancreatitis is nothing to play with. It can lead to a shorter life with chronic pain and many health problems. If you have been using alcohol to such an extent that it creates pancreatitis, it indicates your relationship with alcohol is getting out of hand.
At The Recovery Village Kansas City, we understand how to help you achieve lasting freedom from alcohol abuse. Our compassionate staff and state-of-the-art facilities provide a safe, comfortable environment for you to begin your recovery journey. Contact us today to learn how we can help you start a life free from addiction.
MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2023.
MedlinePlus. “Pancreatitis.” March 17, 2016. Accessed August 15, 2023.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Symptoms & Causes of Pancreatitis.” November, 2017. Accessed August 15, 2023.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Treatment for Pancreatitis.” November, 2017. Accessed August 15, 2023.