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It is unclear why some alcohol abusers develop alcoholic cirrhosis whereas others contract chronic pancreatitis. The aim of this study was to examine the importance of race as a risk factor for the development of chronic pancreatitis.We compared the racial status of 1883 patients discharged with a first-listed diagnosis of two diseases strongly related to alcohol abuse: 433 patients with chronic pancreatitis (ICD 5771) and 1450 patients with alcoholic cirrhosis (ICD 5712). Information came from discharge statistics maintained by two acute care hospitals in New York City and one acute care hospital in Lisbon, Portugal. The study period included the years 1989–1996 in the US and 1989–1994 in Portugal.A total of 215 (50%) of the 433 chronic pancreatitis patients were black compared with 333 (23%) of the 1450 patients with alcoholic cirrhosis. When adjusted for sex and hospital site, patients with pancreatitis were significantly more likely to be black than patients with cirrhosis (odds ratio 2.5, 95% confidence interval 1.9–3.2, p < 0.001).In comparison with white patients, black patients are two to three times more likely to be hospitalized for chronic pancreatitis than alcoholic cirrhosis. This highly significant (p < 0.001) difference was observed in both men and women: in three different hospitals, and in two different countries. The explanation is unknown, but could be related to racial differences in diet, type or quantity of alcohol consumption, smoking, or ability to detoxify substances harmful to the liver or pancreas.