Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis: Symptoms And Treatment

Alcohol-induced pancreatitis is the result of heavy drinking for several years. It can damage the pancreas in a way that may be untreatable toward a cure, but treatable toward management. Alcohol-induced pancreatitis can even be fatal.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


Pancreatitis is an alcohol-related health condition believed to account for up to a quarter of all pancreatitis cases worldwide (most of the others are caused by gallstones). However, it is difficult to accurately gauge this number.

Studies vary throughout the world and even in the same countries. One of the reasons is that it is sometimes difficult to determine the extent of alcohol use in the individuals being studied.

Although there are many questions in regards to alcohol-induced pancreatitis, the medical community has long accepted the link between alcohol use disorder and damage to the intestine.

What Causes Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis?

The impact of the relationship between heavy alcohol consumption and pancreatic diseases such as acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis is difficult to quantify.

Scientists are still unclear as to how alcohol intake affects the causes of pancreatitis. Although it is believed that acetaldehyde produced from the metabolism of alcohol damages pancreatic tissue.

In general, alcohol abuse of about four to five drinks a day for over five years can result in damage to the acinar cells of the pancreas that secrete a digestive enzyme.

Specifically, damaged cells block enzyme secretion through the pancreatic ducts, resulting in a slower flow of enzymes like amylase.

It is also believed that cases of acute pancreatitis do not typically result from binge drinking. Neither does it result in increased risk.

Types Of Alcoholic Pancreatitis

The epidemiology of alcohol-induced pancreatitis describes two types of the disease: acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis.

These two types of pancreatitis have related symptoms and a common cause but are treated differently.

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis describes an episode of inflammation of the pancreas resulting in dysfunction.

A gastroenterology doctor can diagnose acute pancreatitis with two or more of the following:

  • imaging that shows structural elements of the pancreas consistent with acute pancreatitis
  • pain in the upper right area of the abdomen
  • high levels of a pancreatic enzyme called lipase

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is the result of a prolonged episode or more than one incidence of an inflammatory pancreas.

A doctor of gastroenterology can diagnose chronic pancreatitis through an MRI image of the pancreas.

However, diagnostic tools can include measuring the function of the pancreas through blood and stool samples.

Symptoms Of Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis

The symptoms of alcohol-induced pancreatitis can be slightly different than of other forms of pancreatitis.

These symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • severe abdominal pain that can radiate to the back
  • weight loss

Chronic pancreatitis can display symptoms involving low blood sugar levels (pancreatic diabetes) or steatorrhea, which is the inability of the pancreas to absorb fat.

Pain from alcohol-induced pancreatitis, whether it is from chronic pancreatitis or acute pancreatitis, is more general than pancreatic pain generated from the gallbladder.

Dangers Of Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis

Alcohol-induced pancreatitis has several risk factors associated with it. Acute pancreatitis can result in fluid building up in the pancreas within four weeks of the beginning of symptoms.

It can also result in fluid being sealed off in a cyst-like structure after four weeks of having symptoms.

Alcohol-induced pancreatitis can also result in the death of cells or tissue of the pancreas and of that necrosis also being sealed inside pseudocysts. The same timeframes apply.

There are other risk factors. Recent studies show people who have an episode of acute pancreatitis stand a one-in-four chance of it happening again.

They also have about a 16% chance of developing chronic pancreatitis which can also lead to pancreatic cancer.

Death rates resulting from episodes of acute alcoholic pancreatitis have been dropping over the last decade, it is still life-threatening.

Can Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis Be Reversed?

Treatment for both acute and chronic pancreatitis can help respectively reverse or manage the course of the disease.

In addition to that, proper treatment for an episode of acute pancreatitis can reduce the chance of a recurrent episode.

Treatment for alcoholic pancreatitis may include:

  • catching it in time
  • IV therapy
  • intensive care
  • resumption of eating within 24 hours
  • thorough and consistent healthcare with a doctor of gastroenterology

Treatment of chronic pancreatitis can manage the symptoms and prevent or forestall drastic measures such as nerve blocking, endoscopic therapy, or surgery.

These treatments can include pain management and pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy.

Treatment Options For Alcohol Addiction

If the above treatments are to be successful, you must stop chronic alcohol consumption. There are many alcohol addiction treatment options available.

These options may include:

  • alcohol detox
  • medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • counseling or therapy through the use of evidence-based methods

Find Alcohol Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

Get help for alcohol abuse at Bedrock Recovery Center today. Call our helpline to learn more about the intensive alcohol treatment options at our inpatient treatment facility in Massachusetts.

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information,lysosomal%20enzymes%20within%20acinar%20cells.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information
  4. National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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