Skip to main content

Warning notification:Warning

Unfortunately, you are using an outdated browser. Please, upgrade your browser to improve your experience with HSE. The list of supported browsers:

  1. Chrome
  2. Edge
  3. FireFox
  4. Opera
  5. Safari

How alcohol affects the pancreas

Alcohol can damage the pancreas, resulting in:

  • inflammation (pancreatitis)
  • scarring of the pancreas

Pancreatitis can be very painful.

There are 2 types of pancreatitis:

  • acute pancreatitis
  • chronic pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis comes on suddenly. It can cause severe pain and can be life-threatening.

Acute pancreatitis can cause pain in the stomach area (abdomen), behind the ribs. It can spread through the back and cause nausea, vomiting and fever.

Acute pancreatitis can also be caused by gallstones. But sometimes the cause is not known.

Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic (long-lasting) pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed and stays that way. This causes it to stop working properly.

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis include:

  • recurring, severe pain behind the ribs and through the back
  • weight loss
  • greasy, foul-smelling poo and loose bowel movements

It may cause complications that can be life-threatening, such as pancreatic cancer.

Treatment for chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis is hard to treat. The main advice is to not drink alcohol.

The pancreas produces enzymes that digest your food. When your pancreas is not working properly you can take tablets with enzymes in them.

A third of people with pancreatitis develop type 2 diabetes.

Alcohol and diabetes

Reducing the risk

Reduce your risk of damaging your pancreas by cutting down or giving up alcohol.

Stay below the weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines to avoid damaging your pancreas.

If you have pancreatitis, giving up alcohol can slow its development. It will also reduce painful symptoms. But scarring in the pancreas can be irreversible.

Page last reviewed: 20 September 2022
Next review due: 20 September 2025