bottle of alcohol in the street

Alcohol Abuse & Pancreatitis

What Is The Pancreas?

Located behind the stomach and in the back of the abdomen is a large gland that is referred to as the pancreas. Many of the body’s critical organs like the liver and brain rely on the pancreas to maintain balance in the blood sugar levels, so they are able to function correctly.

This organ is known for its two primary functions which are:

  1. Releases insulin and glucagon into the body’s bloodstream with the intent of helping the body store and use its energy correctly. When your body senses that blood sugar levels are too low, the pancreas recognizes it and releases glucagon. Then, on the contrary, when the blood sugar is too high, the pancreas releases the appropriate amounts of insulin need to regulate the blood sugar levels.
  2. Developing digestive enzymes that get released into the small intestine to ensure the digestive system is functioning correctly. The digestive enzymes that the pancreas produces are discharged into the small intestine through the body’s pancreatic ducts. These enzymes are vital to the digestion process of proteins, carbohydrates, and also helps to break down fats.

Pancreatic Effects Caused By Alcohol

It is relatively common to see that long-term heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk, or be the root cause of an individual developing chronic pancreatitis. This life-threatening condition can cause dangerous inflammation of the pancreas and is very painful. When an individual drinks alcohol in excessive amounts, the pancreatic acinar cells metabolize the alcohol into a toxin that causes damage to the user’s pancreatic tissue.

What Is Acute Pancreatitis?

Painful attacks that can last the span of a couple of days and are said to occur suddenly and without warning, are signs leading to chronic pancreatitis being developed. Several years of heavy alcohol consumption alone is enough to let the first onset of acute pancreatitis begin.

However, many scientific studies and research have shown us that just a single occurrence of drinking spirits (not beer or wine) is enough to increase the risk of an acute attack of pancreatitis happening with many individuals. In the United States, approximately one in three acute pancreatitis cases are caused by chronic alcohol use.

back pain caused by pancreatitis

Pancreatitis Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer and chronic pancreatitis are specific and not difficult to recognize if you are aware of the warning signs. As stated in the book, Pancreatitis and Its Complications, there are a couple of frequently seen side-effects that are treatable as long as they are able to be appropriately diagnosed and treated early on.

Common symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:

  • Back pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Mild to moderate-grade fever
  • Severe abdominal pains
  • Abdomen becoming tender to the touch and often swollen
  • Loss of appetite

Information found in Pancreatic Diseases – Advances in Research and Treatment suggests that the primary causes of pancreatitis include:

  • Metabolic complications
  • Hereditary issues
  • Reactions to or side-effects from certain medications
  • Post-surgery complications
  • Gallstones
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Infections
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Other forms of substance abuse

Diagnosing Pancreatitis

To accurately diagnose acute pancreatitis, a doctor or other qualified medical professional conducts a series of blood tests to measure two main digestive enzymes in the body accurately: amylase and lipase. Upon the results coming back showing that the levels of these two enzymes are abnormally high, the high likelihood of acute pancreatitis is considered. Following this, the beginning steps will then be taken to address and treat the patient correctly and professionally.

A couple of other common ways that these tests are conducted have included:

  • Testing the pancreatic functions to pinpoint whether the pancreas is producing and distributing the correct amounts of those vital digestive enzymes.
  • CT scans and ultrasound imaging, along with MRI tests that usually gives a vivid image of the pancreas so that any irregularities can be noticed.
  • ERCP tests are also considered standard in these situations. This test is when a doctor uses a long tube that is equipped with a camera to make the pancreatic and bile ducts visible for inspection.
  • Biopsy tests are also very common. The doctor uses the biopsy method by inserting a needle to remove a small piece of pancreatic tissue from the body so that it can be studied and checked for any abnormalities.

There are many cases where the doctor will want to test your blood and fecal matter to confirm the pancreatitis diagnosis. Glucose tolerance testing is also done frequently to measure the amount of damage that the pancreatic cells that make insulin may potentially have.

How To Prevent Pancreatitis

Unfortunately, a large amount of pancreatitis across the United States is the result of a long-term alcohol abuse habit. Because of this, many of the prevention efforts to avoid this harmful condition often target the amounts and how often the individual drinks alcohol, with the ultimate goal of eliminating alcohol consumption altogether.

If you feel like drinking might be a concern, immediately speaking with your doctor or healthcare professional is strongly recommended. It is crucial to understand that hope should never be lost during this often challenging phase of establishing an outlet to help.

Drug and alcohol addiction treatment facilities are an excellent choice for those who want to overcome their bad habits, as well as learn new and helpful skills to combat them in the future. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) have proven to be beneficial in this process as well, with over a million active members in the United States.

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