Alcoholism and Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a serious, and in many cases fatal, disease directly linked to alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction

Pancreatitis is an inflammation and swelling of the pancreas. It causes severe abdominal pain and inhibits the pancreas’ ability to function.

The pancreas serves an important role in the body, producing powerful enzymes to digest food and creating and regulating insulin to keep blood sugar in check and utilize energy properly.  

There are two forms of Pancreatitis– acute and chronic as described by Medline.

Why Do Alcoholics Get Pancreatitis?

Ethanol–the main ingredient in alcohol–causes the pancreas secretions to build up and block their access to the rest of the body. 

Studies show that the amount of alcohol affects the rate of this happening. So, the more someone drinks, the more likely they’re cutting off healthy pancreatic function. 

This can lead to problems with digestion and abdominal pain

Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatitis

If you’re experiencing any of the following, your drinking habits may be hurting your pancreas. 

  • Greasy, floating, and foul-smelling bowel motions
  • Weight loss
  • Yellowing of eyes and skin (jaundice)

The most common symptom is repeated episodes of severe abdominal pain, typically located below the ribs and through to the back. 

Different Stages of Pancreas Inflammation

There are two forms of Pancreatitis– acute and chronic.

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute Pancreatitis lasts for short periods of time and then resolves. The severity can range from mild to life-threatening, so it is important to take symptoms very seriously. 

Symptoms of acute pancreatitis include: 

  • Swollen or tender abdomen
  • Abdominal pain that radiates to the back (often exacerbated by eating fatty foods)
  • Vomiting and nausea 
  • increased heart rate
  • Fever 

Most acute pancreatitis cases achieve a full recovery, but in more severe instances, there can be permanent damage to tissues, infections, and even cyst formation.

Alcoholism and Pancreatitis

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic Pancreatitis is a form that does not heal or improve. It is a long-lasting inflammation that continues after the acute stage. Eventually, it inhibits a person’s ability to digest food and make pancreatic hormones. It also causes chronic pain in the abdomen and lower back. 

Individuals with Chronic Pancreatitis often lose weight, even when their appetite and eating habits are normal because the body does not secrete enough pancreatic enzymes to digest food properly. Therefore they are unable to absorb nutrients, leading to malnutrition. Heavy drinking is a primary cause of Chronic Pancreatitis and is one of the most severe long-term effects of alcoholism.  

Heavy drinkers who are diagnosed with CP are typically unable to stop on their own. Most physicians will recommend an alcohol treatment program to help the patient recover in order to slow the damage to the Pancreas. The survival rate at 10 years following diagnosis is around 70%, and 45% at 20 years following diagnosis. This means that the disease kills 55% of those who have it within 20 years. 

Alcohol Abuse-Related Pancreatitis FAQs

Q: If I stop drinking, will Pancreatitis go away?
A: Not necessarily.. If someone has reached the chronic pancreatitis stage, they will not be able to heal the damage done to their pancreas.

Q: Can alcohol abuse affect the pancreas?
A: Yes. Alcohol abuse can affect the pancreas. Depending on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption, it may affect the pancreas a little or a lot. 

Q: How long does it take for alcohol pancreatitis to develop?
A: It depends on how frequently someone abuses alcohol. More frequent alcohol abuse is linked to the faster development of pancreatitis. 

Alcoholism and Pancreatitis

In addition to increasing the risk of both types of Pancreatitis, alcohol abuse causes ongoing damage to the body that can result in permanent diseases like Fatty Liver Disease, Kidney Disease, and Heart Disease (the leading cause of death in America). 

Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

In addition to increasing the risk of both types of Pancreatitis, alcohol abuse causes ongoing damage to the body that can result in permanent diseases such as: 

  • Fatty Liver Disease
  • Kidney Disease
  • Heart Disease (the leading cause of death in America). 

If you feel you are currently facing alcohol addiction and would like to stop, help is available. Contact our alcohol addiction treatment helpline at (423) 708-4961 for more information. 


National Library of Medicine – Alcoholic Pancreatitis

National Library of Medicine – Pathophysiology of alcoholic pancreatitis: An overview

Contact us for help today

Ready to start? We’re here for you.

Send us a message