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Inflammation of the pancreatic, or pancreatitis, has several causes. Of these, the two leading causes are pancreatitis from alcohol abuse and gallstones. Whether the condition is chronic or acute, pancreatitis is a serious condition that can be life-threatening. In fact, the CDC reports that cases of alcohol-induced acute pancreatitis have increased by 50% in recent years.

What is Pancreatitis from Alcohol?

The pancreas is an essential organ that is located next to the small intestine and behind the stomach. It plays an important role involving regulating blood sugars and releasing digestive hormones. The job of the pancreas is to produce insulin and glucagon. When blood sugar spikes, the pancreas secretes insulin, and when blood sugar plummets, it secretes glucagon.

Pancreatitis is a health condition in which the pancreas is inflamed. The inflammation is often caused by heavy alcohol consumption, which causes damage from the toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism. Other risk factors that can lead to pancreatitis include gallstones, smoking, diabetes, obesity, infection, and cancer.

What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholic Pancreatitis

The signs of pancreatitis will vary depending on whether it is the chronic or acute form of the disease. Symptoms include:

Chronic pancreatitis symptoms:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen.
  • Unintended weight loss.
  • Abdominal pain that gets worse after eating.
  • Oily stools.

Acute pancreatitis symptoms:

  • Upper abdominal pain.
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • An abscess forms in the pseudocyst.
  • Pain that radiates to the back.
  • The abdomen is tender to the touch.

What is Acute Pancreatitis?

Alcoholism is one of the main factors for acute pancreatitis. The acute form of pancreatitis features a rapid onset of symptoms, such as intense abdominal pain. When an acute attack is present, the person is likely to be admitted to the hospital. Of these patients, 15%-20% will have the more severe form of pancreatitis, which is sometimes fatal.

Complications of pancreatitis that can lead to severe disease or death and include:

  • Kidney failure.
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatic cancer.
  • Malnutrition
  • Low blood oxygen levels.
  • Infection that can become systemic.
  • Pancreatic cancer.

Progression of Pancreatitis

Long-term heavy drinking can take a serious toll on the pancreas. Severe abdominal pain and tenderness are usually the first sign of disease. Lab work reveals high levels of amylase and/or lipase enzymes, and imaging studies confirm the disease.

Alcohol abuse can cause either chronic or acute forms of pancreatitis. It is now believed that chronic pancreatitis is the result of repeated acute attacks.

The disease progresses in these stages:

  1. Inflammation starts to occur in the acinar cells of the pancreas. These are the cells that secrete certain digestive enzymes into the small intestine through ducts.
  2. Five to six years after the onset of the inflammation, the disease is diagnosed as “chronic pancreatitis). This is known by the presence of pancreatic tissue destruction.
  3. Signs of damage continue. These include atrophy of tissues, replacement of healthy tissue with scar tissue, or fibrosis, and hardening of tissue from calcium.
  4.  The inflammation can advance to the point that the swelling cuts off the blood supply. The loss of blood supply then causes tissue death in the pancreas. Also, the pancreas ceases to be able to secrete digestive enzymes.

Treatment for Pancreatitis from Alcohol

If someone is diagnosed with pancreatitis from alcohol abuse, they will receive the standard of care for this condition. It includes:

  • Bed rest.
  • Pain relief interventions.
  • Fasting
  • IV fluids.
  • Enzyme inhibitors
  • Antioxidant treatment.
  • Surgery if there is an abscess or pseudocysts.
  • Pancreatic enzyme supplements.

Much of the damage to the pancreas may be permanent. This is why the patient would need lifelong medications to aid with digestion and glucose regulation. It goes without saying that abstinence from alcohol is required for a positive prognosis.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatitis from alcohol abuse, you will likely need expert support in your quest to stop drinking. You cannot live without a pancreas, so every effort must be made to get sober and stay sober. This is more difficult than it may seem and will require the help of a comprehensive addiction recovery program.

The purpose of detox and rehab is to help you become sober, and then to learn how to form a sober lifestyle. Sobriety is not an option if you have chronic pancreatitis. You must learn how to change the thought and behavior patterns that have kept you in the cycle of alcoholism.

First Step: Medical Detox

In most cases, alcohol detox and withdrawal should be medically supervised. For a small number of people, withdrawal symptoms can become suddenly life threatening, which is a medical emergency. Medical detox involves the constant monitoring of symptoms, which can detect the signs of severe withdrawals and respond swiftly. For these reasons, it is always advised that the person receive a medical detox when they decide to quit drinking.

Detox experts and medical personnel assist the withdrawal process from start to finish. Detox involves three distinct stages, called the emerging, peak, and subsiding phases of withdrawal. On average, alcohol detox takes about one week but may last longer for someone with severe alcohol use disorder.

Next Step: Rehab

To sustain your newfound sobriety, you must enter a treatment program where you will learn how to live a sober lifestyle. This involves several types of therapy and other activities that help you make the changes needed in your behaviors. These include:

  • Therapy. Therapy sessions are the centerpiece of alcoholism recovery. You will work with a therapist to work through any underlying issues that might be factors. They will access CBT and/or DBT to help you make needed changes in your behaviors and choices.
  • Group therapy. Group therapy provides a safe space to share and learn from peers in recovery.
  • Family therapy. Family group is an important facet of treatment, as it prepares the family for your recovery.
  • Classes. In a series of classes, new coping skills are taught to aid in recovery. You will also devise a relapse prevention strategy.
  • 12-step program. A.A.’s 12-step program is part of the treatment program.
  • Holistic methods. Holistic methods can enhance treatment and may include yoga, art therapy, and mindfulness.

LifeSync Malibu Offers Comprehensive Treatment for Alcoholism

LifeSync Malibu is a leading luxury addiction treatment center that can provide support and treatment for those struggling with alcoholism. If you or a loved one has pancreatitis from alcoholism, please reach out to our team today at (866) 491-4426.