The Link between Alcoholism and Pancreatitis

Alcoholism, medically known as alcohol use disorder, is a serious health condition that affects about 15 million people in the United States. 

People who struggle with alcoholism have the inability to control or stop their alcohol use despite the negative effects it has on their employment, relationships, and health. 

Though alcoholism is one of the most common causes of liver disease, excessive use of alcohol also increases your risk of pancreatitis. 

Here at GastroMed in Miami, Florida, our experienced team of board-certified gastroenterologists uses advanced technology to diagnose pancreatitis and identify the underlying cause. 

Many people may not be aware of the link between alcoholism and pancreatitis, so we want to share how alcohol affects your pancreas. 

About your pancreas

Located in your upper abdominal area behind your stomach, your pancreas is part of your digestive system and helps turn the food you eat into energy. 

About 95% of your pancreas is made up of exocrine glands that produce and excrete enzymes that help digest food in your small intestine. The other 5% is made up of endocrine glands that produce hormones that regulate your blood sugar. 

Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition that occurs when your pancreatic enzymes get activated before they reach your digestive tract. These enzymes irritate and inflame the cells in the pancreas, which may cause severe abdominal pain that worsens after you eat.

Pancreatitis may be acute, coming on suddenly and going away within a few days after treatment. Repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis may cause permanent damage to your pancreas and lead to chronic pancreatitis.  

Chronic pancreatitis affects the structure and function of the pancreas and may cause ongoing abdominal pain, digestion problems, and diabetes. 

Link between alcoholism and pancreatitis

Alcoholism causes 17 to 25% of acute pancreatitis cases around the world, making it the second-most common cause of the painful condition. It often occurs in people who regularly consume up to five drinks a day over a period of five or more years. 

The type of alcohol consumed doesn’t affect risk. However, heavy smokers with alcohol use disorder are at greater risk of developing acute pancreatitis. 

Alcoholism is the most common cause of chronic pancreatitis, accounting for 40 to 70% of cases throughout the world. 

How alcohol affects the function and health of the pancreas isn’t fully understood. However, your pancreas assists in the metabolism of alcohol. The damage to the gland may occur from exposure to the toxic byproducts created during alcohol metabolism, such as acetaldehyde and fatty acid ethyl ethers. 

Despite the strong link between alcoholism and pancreatitis, only about 10% of heavy alcohol users develop pancreatitis, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Treatment for pancreatitis

Treatment for pancreatitis depends on whether your condition is acute or chronic. In both cases, we recommend abstinence from alcohol to prevent further damage to your pancreas.

With acute pancreatitis, we may recommend a brief hospital stay so we can provide intravenous fluids and a limited diet so your pancreas can rest and heal. 

For chronic pancreatitis, we recommend lifestyle changes that include a healthy, low-fat diet and smoking cessation. We may also provide enzymes for you to take by mouth to support digestion, along with special nutritional supplements to prevent vitamin deficiencies.

Alcoholism is a chronic disorder requiring ongoing medical management that may include referrals to specialists like us. If you’re suffering from acute or chronic pancreatitis from alcoholism, we can provide the treatment you need to alleviate your symptoms and help you live a better life. 

To learn more or to schedule an appointment, give us a call at the Miami office nearest you, or contact us online

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