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Pancreatitis & Alcohol: Alcohol’s Effect on the Pancreas

Posted on August 24, 2023

Pancreatitis & Alcohol: Alcohol’s Effect on the Pancreas

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance, meaning it affects the mind. The different types of psychoactive substances are opioids, hallucinogens, central nervous system stimulants, legal highs, marijuana, and central nervous system depressants.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This means that long-term use has a negative effect on the brain, with the potential to lead to memory loss, poor coordination, poor concentration, and depression.

What are the Symptoms Of Alcohol Addiction?

A man in therapy, hands clasped

When someone is addicted to alcohol, they are likely to binge on the substance or take high doses of it. This can lead to symptoms such as paranoia, aggression, high energy, low mood, and impulsivity.

Chronic, long-term use of alcohol can lead to symptoms that persist, even when the individual is not drinking alcohol. This can include low self-esteem, mood swings, nausea, headaches, anxiety, and depression.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Different Parts Of the Body?

Woman struggling to sleep

Below, we outline how alcohol affects the different parts of the body:

1. Liver

When you think about how alcoholism affects the body, the first thing that is likely to come to mind is the liver. This is because the liver processes the alcohol that enters the body, and when there is too much alcohol, the liver is sometimes unable to function well.

Heavy drinkers are risking fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis. In the most extreme cases, alcoholism can lead to liver cancer or liver failure.

2. Brain

When you consume too much alcohol, it affects the chemicals in your brain, which puts you more at risk of developing certain mental health conditions including depression and anxiety.

Alcohol can also damage the brain and lead to memory issues, concentration problems, slow thought processing, and mood swings.

3. Heart

Drinking too much alcohol wreaks havoc on your cardiovascular system, as your heart rate and blood pressure are constantly fluctuating significantly. This increases your risk of having a heart attack.

The heart can also weaken as a result of alcohol addiction, and this puts the drinker at risk of developing congestive heart failure.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Pancreas?


Alcohol addiction increases the risk of acute pancreatitis (one of two types of pancreatitis). In 25% of acute pancreatitis cases in the UK, the condition is caused by alcohol (1).

Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and usually clears up within a week unless it is severe.

The symptoms of pancreatitis are high temperature, severe pain in the centre of the abdomen, high heart rate, and nausea and/or vomiting. These symptoms occur as a result of the pancreas swelling temporarily.

There is no widely accepted reason that alcohol use can lead to pancreatitis.

One theory is that it damages the pancreatic tissue, making it more vulnerable to swelling. Another is that alcohol molecules interfere with the pancreatic cells and prevent them from functioning (2).

It is important to note that alcohol does not directly cause pancreatitis. Instead, it makes the pancreas weaker and more vulnerable, which makes the alcohol user more susceptible to developing pancreatitis.

Are there Other Causes Of Pancreatitis?

Person sleeping

Yes, there are other causes of pancreatitis that do not involve alcohol. The potential causes of acute pancreatitis are abdominal surgery, autoimmune diseases, cystic fibrosis, gallstones, trauma, infection, hypertriglyceridemia, obesity, certain medications, metabolic disorders, and pancreatic cancer.

Chronic pancreatitis is another type of pancreatitis that can also be triggered by heavy alcohol use. However, other possible causes are smoking, certain medications, genetics, gallstones, cystic fibrosis, high triglycerides.

It is unfortunately very common for people with chronic pancreatitis to never find out what caused their condition. We refer to this as idiopathic chronic pancreatitis.

What Happens If You Already Have Pancreatitis and You Drink?

Person holding stomach

If you have pancreatitis, you should not continue to drink alcohol. It will further damage your pancreas, which increases your risk of serious illness. This applies to all alcoholic beverages.

However, once you have healed from pancreatitis, you can start drinking again, as long as you avoid binge drinking or drinking excessively over a long period of time.

If your pancreatitis was triggered by heavy alcohol use, you should lead a life of sobriety in order to avoid further damage to your pancreas.

Can You Reverse the Damage Of Alcohol On Your Pancreas?


It is very difficult to reverse the damage of alcoholic pancreatitis. Permanent medication, blood sugar regulation, and a strict diet can help with this, but nothing is guaranteed.

Plenty of people will never completely recover from alcoholic pancreatitis.

Can Occasional Alcohol Use Cause Pancreatitis?

alcoholic 2

It is very unlikely that you will develop pancreatitis as a result of alcohol use unless you are a chronic drinker.

Chronic pancreatitis is most often linked to patients who have four to five drinks a day for a long period of time (five years or more), and only 3% of these patients will develop chronic pancreatitis (3).

If you are already very vulnerable to developing pancreatitis for other reasons, you should be wary of drinking alcohol in large quantities or in a short space of time, as you are at an increased risk of pancreatitis.

How Long After Drinking Can Pancreatitis Occur?


In most cases, alcohol pancreatitis occurs when a heavy drinker suddenly withdraws from alcohol, or a few days after a binge drinking session (4).

Who is Affected By Alcoholic Pancreatitis?

Men in their forties are more likely to experience alcoholic pancreatitis than any other demographic (5).

It is common for men who develop chronic pancreatitis to have experienced acute pancreatitis in the past. Usually, the first episode occurs within the first 5-10 years of chronic drinking (6).

Which Alcoholic Drinks Cause Pancreatitis?

alcoholism 1

A British Journal of Surgery study found that drinking beer or wine is not associated with alcoholic pancreatitis. However, for every five drinks of hard liquor consumed in one setting, the risk of developing acute pancreatitis rises by 52% (7).

However, all alcoholic drinks have the potential to damage your pancreas, and it has been proven that beer causes pancreas inflammation more than some other alcoholic beverages.

How is Alcoholic Pancreatitis Treated?

When pancreatitis is caused by heavy alcohol use, the best treatment is abstinence. Though this is unlikely to reverse the damage completely, it prevents pancreatitis from developing again, and it keeps the pancreas as healthy as it can possibly be.

In terms of medical intervention, a doctor will often drain fluid from the pancreas to reduce the swelling.

In extreme cases, patients with pancreatitis need to have surgery, as severe tissue scarring makes it very difficult to drain the pancreatic fluid safely. A surgeon will remove the damaged tissue from the pancreas (and sometimes scarred tissue) to make draining possible.

Painkillers are also frequently prescribed to treat chronic pancreatitis. Again, this does not take away the damage, but it helps the patient to cope with the painful symptoms.

Patients with pancreatitis are usually advised to stick to a healthy diet, such as a low-fat diet. This is because the pancreas makes enzymes that break down fats, sugars, and starches, so the healthier your diet, the better your pancreas can perform its role.

Tips For Drinking Alcohol in Moderation


If you drink alcohol in moderation, you do not need to worry about getting pancreatitis. Here are some suggestions for how to drink moderately and avoid this illness.

1. Slowly reduce your intake

It is never a good idea to stop drinking alcohol all in one go if you tend to drink it regularly, or in large volumes. This is known as quitting cold turkey, and it is linked to dangerous withdrawal symptoms and alcohol-related deaths.

Instead, gradually reduce your intake over time. If you find yourself drinking two glasses of wine every night, first cut this down to one glass of wine a night, then one glass every other day, until you eventually reach a point of moderation. This may be drinking a couple of glasses at the weekend.

As difficult as it may be, try not to replace your alcohol dependency with something else, such as sugar or smoking. This will land you in the same situation.

The best way to do this is to figure out why you are relying on substances, which may require going to therapy.

2. Get sober friends

Many people who drink too much alcohol are surrounded by people who do exactly the same. This is bound to keep you practising bad habits, as it is very tempting to drink when you see it everywhere.

It may be helpful to make friends with people who do not drink at all, or who drink in moderation. This will motivate you to avoid unhealthy drinking habits.

You could also ask these friends about what it’s like to be sober. They may be able to explain how avoiding alcohol has brought them happiness.

For example, perhaps they get more sleep, they get ill less frequently, and they enjoy socialising more as they are more present.

3. Don’t keep alcohol in your house

If your house is full of alcohol, it is full of temptation. You will be much more likely to reach for a drink after a hard day or to drink on the weekends to make the evenings as relaxed as possible.

If you struggle with drinking large amounts, removing alcohol from your home could be a great start to living a more moderate lifestyle when it comes to drinking.

You could of course go out and buy some, but the extra effort this takes may mean that you end up refraining from drinking more often.

4. Keep busy

Some people drink because they are bored or lonely, and they begin to see alcohol as a companion. This is dangerous as it can easily lead to addiction.

Even if it remains a mild dependency, it can cause a range of negative symptoms, such as fatigue, anxiety, headaches, and insomnia.

If you keep busy, you will have less time to think about drinking alcohol, so you will be less likely to do it. You also may have less of a desire to drink, as your needs are being fulfilled in other ways.

Some examples of ways to keep busy are: going to the gym, socialise with friends, watching films, going on long walks, starting a business, getting involved with online forums, doing charity work, reading, starting a new club, and trying a creative hobby such as drawing or knitting.

5. Consider professional help

If you are addicted to alcohol, though the above tips will be helpful, they will most likely not make a significant change to your life. This is because addiction leads to physical and psychological symptoms that affect all areas of your life, so you are already very deep into your dependency if you are experiencing these.

The main options in the UK for alcohol addiction treatment are outpatient rehab programmes, inpatient rehab programmes, and home detox. Browse our website to discover what each treatment is, how it works, and how you can access it.

If you don’t have time for this, call us and we will explain how we can help you to get a place at a treatment centre in the UK or qualify for a home detox. If you live in the UK, call 0880 088 66 86. International clients should call +44 330 333 6197.

FAQs About Rehab For Alcoholism

Below, we provide some FAQs about the alcohol rehab process:

1. Do I need to go to rehab?

If you exhibit symptoms of alcohol addiction, we recommend going to rehab. You will be able to have detox and therapy, and together, they significantly reduce your chances of returning to addiction.

On the other hand, if you have recently become reliant on alcohol, but it is not affecting all areas of your life and your symptoms are few and far between, a home detox or outpatient treatment may be sufficient for you.

We encourage you to speak to us before making the final decision, as we will be able to assess how severe your problem is, and which option would be the most suitable.

2. How long does alcohol rehab last?

Most patients with alcohol addiction go to rehab for 28 days. The first few days involve the medical detox, and after that, the patient will focus on addiction therapy.

It is possible to request a shorter stay, but not all alcohol rehabs will allow you to do this. This is because they structure the patient’s day around the 28-day plan, so they do not want to miss important sessions out of your treatment.

Some alcohol rehabs will allow you to stay for just a detox or just therapy. Others permit patients to stay beyond 28 days if they pay the additional fees.

3. Can I go to an NHS alcohol rehab?

Unfortunately, you will not be able to go to NHS rehab, as there is no such thing. Speak to us about your financial situation and we will confirm whether you would qualify for NHS-funded rehab treatment.

If you can afford residential rehab, we strongly recommend that you go ahead with this option, as you will avoid waiting lists completely. This could have a life-changing effect, as delaying addiction treatment can be fatal.

4. Can I get cognitive behavioural therapy at rehab?

Yes, most alcohol rehabs offer cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In these sessions, you will be able to discuss your addiction, as well as any other struggles you have, e.g., grief, anxiety, depression, or trauma.

Please let us know if you want to get CBT at rehab. We can narrow down our search to treatment facilities that offer CBT, to ensure you get to have this experience.

You will be encouraged to branch out and try many different forms of therapy, so don’t worry if you don’t like the idea of CBT, or you have had a bad experience with it in the past.

5. Which alcohol rehabs would you recommend?

You can see a list of the rehabs we work with on our locations page. We do not disclose the names of the private rehabs we work with but rest assured that we have strict criteria that include high levels of success and a range of facilities for patients.

All of our rehab centres adopt an abstinence-based approach to treatment. This means they do not allow patients to use substances in any capacity while they are at rehab, and they arm them with coping mechanisms to prevent them from relapsing when they leave.

There are some alcohol rehabs in this country that operate a harm reduction treatment approach, but we believe this is potentially dangerous as it increases the risk of relapse.


[1] Alcohol and pancreatitis

[2] Ibid.


[4] Pancreatitis

[5] Alcohol-Related Pancreatic Damage

[6] Alcoholic Pancreatitis

[7] Acute Pancreatitis and Alcohol

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