Know what lies beyond hangovers: Effect on pancreas

In the previous article of this series, we discussed the ill effects of heavy drinking on the brain. However, excessive drinking damages other organs as well, including pancreas.

Pancreas is a small, tadpole-shaped organ behind the stomach and plays an important role in digestion and metabolism. It is responsible for sending enzymes into the small intestine that help in digesting food. It also secretes the hormones, insulin and glucagon that control the process of utilizing glucose, the main source of energy for the body. Insulin even ensures that extra glucose is stored away in the body. As is obvious, interruption in the function of pancreas can lead to serious problems.

Drinking excessive alcohol damages the pancreas and leads to what is known as pancreatitis. It is a kind of inflammation that occurs due to damage of the pancreatic cells. As a result, the digestive process is hampered and metabolic processes associated with insulin are obstructed. This can lead to diabetes and even cancer.

Alcohol’s effect on pancreas

Normal pancreas sends out various enzymes to the small intestine that help in metabolizing food. Alcohol hinders this process. Due to alcohol abuse the digestive juices instead of being sent to the small intestine are secreted internally. These enzymes, along with acetaldehyde (created due to break up of alcohol) harm the pancreas. Consumption of excessive alcohol over a long time causes inflammation and swelling of pancreatic tissues and blood vessels. This inflammation is medically known as pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis that occurs suddenly and lasts for a few days is known as acute pancreatitis. Notably, the inflammation can also become persistent and last for years. Long-term and continued inflammation is called chronic pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can also lead to pancreatic cancer.

Link between heavy drinking and pancreatitis

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), each year more than 20,000 people suffer from acute pancreatitis and are hospitalized in the U.S. Most of the people who develop pancreatitis are heavy drinkers. People who abuse alcohol are at a higher risk of developing this condition.

Although drinking heavily can lead to acute pancreatitis, regularly abusing alcohol can result in chronic pancreatitis. The actual process of onset is unknown but scientists have proved that heavy drinking is a major reason of this disease. However, only five percent of people with alcohol dependence end up doing so. Researchers are yet to confirm what environmental or genetic factors make some people more susceptible to the disease than others.

Irreversible damage alcohol may cause

It is advisable to stop drinking once acute pancreatitis sets in. This may reduce the symptoms while medication will help in improving the health. All the same, once chronic pancreatitis develops, the damage becomes irreversible.

It is a painful condition and medication can only manage the ailment, not cure it. Additionally, medicines may also be needed for digesting food and controlling the blood sugar levels which may prove to be a life-long affair.

In some cases, after complete abstinence and treatment for several years, the pain may go away. But, remaining effects are untreatable as of now.

Protect your body

If suffering from acute pancreatitis it is important to stop drinking alcohol for at least six months or till the symptoms recede. However, in case of chronic pancreatitis, there is no other alternative than to stop drinking alcohol completely. Consuming alcohol despite suffering from chronic pancreatitis can only worsen the condition.

If you find it tough to abstain from alcohol, you may have alcohol dependence which can be life threatening. For immediate help or to know about the best alcohol addiction treatment centers in U.S.A call the Alcohol Addiction Treatment Helpline at (866)-281-3014, or chat with one of our representatives online.

Read other articles of the series:

1. What lies beyond hangovers: Effect on brain