Pancreatitis and Alcohol

Heavy drinking, defined by the CDC as consuming 8 or more alcoholic beverages per week for women or 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week for men, can cause pancreatitis.  The initial attack of pancreatitis is an acute condition which can then become chronic.  New studies show a difference in how African American patients and other patients differ in severity of the disease and prognosis.

In patients with acute pancreatitis caused from alcohol abuse, African American patients were almost twice as likely to develop chronic pancreatitis.  African American patients were also more likely to have more pain, and their pain was more constant and their chronic pancreatitis lasted longer.  Caucasian patients were more likely to need gall bladder removal where African American patients were more likely to have strictures in the pancreatic or common bile ducts.

If you’re diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, you should stop drinking alcohol for a period of time and then only drink in moderation.  Eating a low fat diet will also keep the pancreas from working too hard and will aid in healing.   When your pancreas can’t heal you can develop chronic pancreatitis that can last for years.  Chronic pancreatitis means your pancreas has stopped working properly. There are medications that can help with digestion such as pancreatic enzymes and insulin to help you regulate your blood sugar levels.  You may also need medications for pain management since the pain caused by this condition can be described as severe and even disabling.  Ask your doctor what medications are best for you.

If you continue to drink after developing chronic pancreatitis, you are three times more likely to die from the complications.  If you’re diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, you should stop drinking alcohol. This can reduce your pain and stop further pancreatic damage.  If it’s hard for you to stop drinking, talk to your doctor about getting some extra help and support with alcohol dependency.

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