A Los Angeles surgeon said Wednesday that along with increased alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of alcohol-induced pancreatitis cases is rising.
Dr. PJ Benyamini, general surgeon at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, said prolonged alcohol use can cause chronic pancreatitis, leading to permanent/irreversible pancreatic damage that may lead to development of other diseases like diabetes.
“The disease is indiscriminate — it doesn’t affect any group more than any other,” Benyamini told City News Service. “With the pandemic can come financial uncertainly, loneliness, job loss, lack of support, and these stresses can lead people to turn to different outlets, including alcohol.”
According to several recent studies, alcohol use and dependence among Americans, particularly young adults, witnessed dramatic increase during the coronavirus lockdown, leading to a spike in alcohol-induced health concerns.
For many months during the pandemic, some were afraid to come to the hospital to seek help, but that began to turn around as the vaccine became available, the doctor said.
“Incidences of pancreatitis have been increasing forever,” Benyamini said. “There wasn’t a time that we didn’t see these patients. I’ve dealt with it for my entire career. But during the pandemic, we identified that a lot more of our patients were also dealing with drugs and alcohol.”
According to “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025,” a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, adults of legal drinking age are advised to drink in moderation. Men should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day and women are advised to consume one drink or less per day.
Alcohol consumption is not recommended for those who are under the legal age for drinking, women who are pregnant or might be pregnant, and individuals with certain medical conditions or those taking certain medications.
Benyamini said those who may be over-consuming alcohol or might have an “alcohol use disorder” if they “develop problems at work, school or home because of their habit, have a strong urge to drink alcohol regularly, are regularly sick from alcohol consumption or hangover, drink more or longer than planned, and have difficulty in cutting back or stopping alcohol consumption.”
“These signs should be identified as soon as possible to seek help/assistance before the condition worsens,” he said.
The doctor noted that over-consumption of alcohol has many associated health risks, along with acute and chronic pancreatitis.
“Heavy drinking or binge drinking has been associated with chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis — where liver cells become damaged — psychological disorders, cancer, and dehydration,” Benyamini said. “Individuals who consume alcohol are at risk for injury because of their altered state which may cause motor vehicle accidents, falls, drowning, aspiration and altercations.”