Pancreatitis and Alcohol Abuse – Many health problems can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, and one of these is pancreatitis. But how exactly are pancreatitis and alcohol abuse related to one another? Most people don’t worry too much about their pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach and below the ribcage. However, one should know that despite its small form, and the nominal amount of discussion it invokes, it’s pretty darn important. The pancreas creates two substances essential for life: digestive liquids that the intestines use to break down food, and hormones, such as insulin, which are also involved in digestion and the regulation of blood sugar levels. Pancreatitis occurs when the organ becomes inflamed, and its cells are damaged. There are two types of pancreatitis – acute, which is temporary and short-term, and chronic, which is prolonged and may never go away. Heavy alcohol consumption can be responsible for both of these conditions.
Acute vs. Chronic Pancreatitis and Alcohol Abuse
Acute pancreatitis Most cases of acute pancreatitis develop rapidly. The pancreas incurs inflammation, but it only remains in this condition a few days and usually does not result in permanent damage. However, one in five cases of acute pancreatitis are considered severe, as enzymes from the pancreas can reach the bloodstream and result in more serious conditions, such as kidney failure. Scientists aren’t entirely sure how alcohol causes this condition. One generally accepted theory is that the molecules in alcohol interfere with pancreatic cells and prevent them from working correctly. Regardless of the cause, however, make no mistake there is a definite association between acute pancreatitis and alcohol abuse – and the more you drink, the higher the risk of developing the condition. Symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain, usually behind the ribs and spreading through to the back
- Nausea and vomiting
Chronic Pancreatitis Chronic pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and remains in this state, then stops working correctly. Symptoms include:
- Recurring, severe pain behind the ribs and in the back
- Weight loss
- Presence of greasy, foul-smelling feces
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Chronic pancreatitis is usually the result of repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis, most often caused by heavy drinking (although it can also be caused by gallstones). Over time, the pancreas suffers irreversible damage and becomes permanently inflamed. It may also be worse if you smoke tobacco – cigarettes are thought to amplify the harmful impact of alcohol on the pancreas. Damage from chronic pancreatitis can be permanent, and if you are diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, you should stop drinking immediately and adopt a low-fat diet. These actions will decrease your risk of another episode and developing chronic pancreatitis. The outlook for many cases of chronic pancreatitis is not great. The damage is irreversible, and people often need to go on medication to help them digest food and maintain blood sugar levels. It’s a painful disorder, but after years of treatment, the pain can improve or even subside altogether.
Chronic Pancreatitis Can Increase the Risk of Other Health Conditions
About one-third of people with chronic pancreatitis also develop diabetes. Because of damaged inflicted on the pancreas, it can no longer make the insulin needed to regulate blood sugar. However, it usually takes several years after a diagnosis of pancreatitis for this to happen. Chronic pancreatitis can also cause a complication called pseudocysts, which are sacs of fluid that develop on the pancreas’ surface. In most cases, they don’t cause symptoms, but in some, they may lead to bloating, indigestion, and stomach pain. Chronic pancreatitis also increases one’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer, which has a low survival rate (only 7% live for five years or longer). And, of course, like any health condition that causes a tremendous amount of pain, chronic pancreatitis can profoundly affect a person emotionally and harm one’s mental health.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
If you’ve been diagnosed with either acute or chronic pancreatitis and alcohol abuse is a problem for you, the most important thing you can do is to stop drinking alcohol immediately. By doing so, you may reduce the amount of pain you experience and prevent further damage to your pancreas. Due to complications that can arise from abruptly halting excessive alcohol use, you should also strongly consider participating in a medical detox, a process that should then be closely followed by an inpatient addiction treatment program that can provide you with the tools and support you need to sustain long-term sobriety. Our center offers comprehensive, evidence-based services that include behavioral therapy, counseling, and group support. Furthermore, we employ certified medical health professionals who specialize in alcohol addiction and deliver these services with care and compassion to all of our clients. You can restore wellness and harmony to your life – contact us today to find out how we can help you recover!