Alcoholic neuropathy is a disease associated with chronic alcohol abuse characterized by damage to the nervous system. It can affect the brain and nerves situated anywhere in the body, including the feet, hands, muscles, gastrointestinal system, and reproductive system. Although the exact cause of alcoholic neuropathy is unknown, it results from alcohol-related nerve damage, poor diet, and vitamin deficiency associated with excessive drinking.
Thiamine, folate, niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, and vitamin E are necessary for proper nerve function. Drinking too much can alter levels of these nutrients and affect the spread of alcoholic neuropathy. Fortunately, abstaining from alcohol can help restore your nutritional health. This may improve your symptoms and help prevent further nerve damage. However, some alcohol-induced nerve damage is permanent.
Symptoms Of Alcoholic Neuropathy
Alcoholic neuropathy can affect both movement and sensation. Symptoms range from slight discomfort to significant disability. Although the condition is not life-threatening, it can decrease your quality of life.
Some Areas Of The Body Affected By Alcoholic Neuropathy Include:
Arms and Legs
- Tingling and Burning
- Prickly Sensations
- Muscle Spasms and Cramps
- Muscle Weakness and Atrophy
- Loss of Muscle Functioning
- Movement Disorders
Urinary and Bowel
- Problems Starting Urination
- Feeling that the bladder hasn’t been emptied fully
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Impaired Speech
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Heat Intolerance, particularly following exercise
- Vomiting and Nausea
- Dizziness or Lightheadedness
Progressive & Permanent Side Effects
Alcoholic polyneuropathy is progressive and worsens over time, as the damage to the nerves increases with continued alcohol abuse. The problems that alcoholic neuropathy causes with muscle weakness, balance, and coordination can make a person more at risk for falling and getting injured. In addition, not being able to tell when things are too hot because the nerve damage interferes with the ability to sense temperature changes can make one more susceptible to burns.
Similarly, numbness and lowered ability to feel pain sensations can make people cut themselves or otherwise damage the skin. Often, individuals may not even realize that they are burned or cut because they don’t feel it, which can elevate the risk for infection. Usually, the side effects of alcoholic polyneuropathy are permanent. They get worse with more alcohol consumption, so if you stop drinking and seek professional medical attention, you can manage the disorder’s symptoms and potentially keep the nerve damage from worsening.
Causes Of Alcoholic Neuropathy
Your peripheral nerves help your body manage essential sensory and motor functions, including:
- Bowel and Urinary Elimination
- Arm and Leg Movement
- Sexual Arousal
Alcoholic neuropathy is the result of damage to these nerves. The damage may be the direct result of long periods where you drank too much alcohol. In addition, nutritional problems linked to alcohol use, such as vitamin deficiency, can also cause nerve damage.
Diagnosing Alcoholic Neuropathy
Your doctor will need to examine you to diagnose this condition. It is important to share any history of alcohol use with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis. In addition, your doctor will need to rule out other potential causes for your symptoms.
Tests, which may identify other potential causes of neuropathy, include:
- Nerve Biopsy
- Nerve Conduction Tests
- Upper GI and small bowel series
- Neurological Examination
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
- Kidney, thyroid, and liver function tests
- Complete blood count (CBC)
Blood tests can also look for vitamin deficiencies that are linked to both nerve health and alcohol use. Nutrients your doctor might test for include:
- Vitamins B6 and B12
- Biotin and Pantothenic Acid
- Vitamins E and A
Treatment For Alcoholic Neuropathy
The most important thing you can do to treat this condition is to stop drinking. Treatment may first focus on problems with alcohol use. For some people, this may require inpatient rehab. Others may be able to stop drinking with outpatient therapy or social support.
Once alcohol use has been addressed, your doctor can focus on the neuropathy itself. Symptom management is essential. Nerve damage can also make it difficult for you to carry out the functions of daily life. Nerve damage may even make injuries more likely. Every person’s needs are different. Treatment for neuropathy may involve one or many kinds of care. These include:
- Vitamin supplements to improve nerve health (folate, thiamine, niacin, and vitamins B6, B12, and E)
- Prescription pain relievers (tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsants)
- Medication for people with problems urinating
- Physical therapy to help with muscle atrophy
- Orthopedic appliances to stabilize extremities
- Safety gear, such as stabilizing footwear, to prevent injuries
- Special stockings for your legs to avoid dizziness
Preventing Alcoholic Neuropathy
You Can Avoid Alcoholic Neuropathy By:
- Avoiding excessive drinking of alcohol
- Not drinking alcohol if you have symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy
- Seeking help if you are having trouble avoiding alcohol
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet
- Taking vitamin supplements if you have deficiencies (always talk to your doctor before taking supplements)
We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. We work as an integrated team providing information about alcoholic neuropathy and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.
Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke – https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Peripheral-Neuropathy-Fact-Sheet
NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21988193