Alcohol use can lead to the development of many health-related issues, but can it cause pancreatitis?

Many health conditions can be caused by excessive drinking or worsened by alcohol use. One such condition is pancreatitis. It’s worthwhile to explore the connections between alcohol and pancreatitis, and more specifically, alcohol-induced pancreatitis.

Article at a Glance:

Pancreatitis is a painful and potentially deadly disease, and the relationship between alcohol and pancreatitis is undeniable. Some of the main points related to the relationship between alcohol and pancreatitis are:

  • Short-term alcohol use is unlikely to cause pancreatitis
  • Long-term alcohol use can lead to episodes of acute pancreatitis
  • Several episodes of acute pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis that can become permanent
  • The best way to avoid alcohol-induced pancreatitis is to stop using alcohol

Cause of Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis

The pancreas is a gland located underneath the stomach that creates and releases digestive juices and enzymes. In pancreatitis, the pancreas becomes inflamed and painful, and a person may experience nausea and pain when they attempt to eat.

Alcohol and pancreatitis are closely related to one another in many cases. Alcohol use can cause acute pancreatitis, which involves episodes of pancreatitis that come and go within a short timeframe.

Researchers aim to understand how alcohol relates to acute pancreatitis, and several theories exist. One of the theories is that alcohol causes the cells of the pancreas to begin to malfunction. While the exact link between alcohol and acute pancreatitis isn’t fully understood, medical professionals do know that the more a person drinks, and the longer someone is a drinker, the more likely they are to develop acute pancreatitis.

Chronic Alcohol Use and Pancreatitis

Over time with chronic alcohol use:

  • Several episodes of acute pancreatitis may be experienced
  • Repeated cases of acute pancreatitis lead to lasting damage to the pancreas, causing a condition called chronic pancreatitis. Doctors and researchers believe that around seven out of ten chronic pancreatitis cases are related to heavy, long-term alcohol use.
  • Smoking tobacco can increase the risk of long-term damage to the pancreas
  • Alcohol-induced pancreatitis can develop. Research shows that excessive alcohol use over several years typically leads to the first case of acute, alcohol-induced pancreatitis.

A single instance of binge drinking is unlikely to lead to acute pancreatitis, as the damage to the pancreas builds up over time.

Alcohol-Induced Pancreatitis Treatment

If you have a case of acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis, follow your doctor’s instructions to cut out alcohol and start following a healthy, low-fat diet. If you eliminate alcohol and eat a healthy diet, you’re more likely to avoid a future pancreatitis attack, and ultimately chronic pancreatitis as well.

However, if you do develop chronic alcohol-induced pancreatitis, the prognosis may be negative. The damaging relationship between alcohol and pancreatitis is difficult to reverse once it’s chronic, and you will likely need lifelong medication. Medication for chronic alcohol-induced pancreatitis aids in digestion and normalizing blood sugar levels.

Regardless of whether you have acute or chronic pancreatitis, one of the most important actions you can take is to stop using alcohol as soon as possible.

If you or a loved one needs help to overcome an alcohol addiction, seeking professional help is a great way to start. Reach out to one of the caring professionals of The Recovery Village team today to find out treatment can work for you.

Camille Renzoni
Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
Benjamin Caleb Williams
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more
Sources “The Pancreas and its Functions.” Published in 2019. Accessed March 22, 2019.

Tang, Jeffery C. F. “Acute Pancreatitis.” Medscape, 2019. Accessed March 22, 2019.

Huffman, Jason L. “Chronic Pancreatitis.” Medscape, 2018. Accessed March 22, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.