Alcoholic Neuropathy

Heavy alcohol drinking can lead to many health problems that sometimes result in death. Alcoholic Neuropathy is a disorder that causes the nerves in our bodies to malfunction. When this condition affects multiple nerves, it is called Polyneuropathy. When it affects only one nerve it is called Mononeuropathy. Prolonged alcohol use can cause Polyneuropathy causing nerve damage running down both sides of the body. When Neuropathy progresses to this stage, the neural signals between body parts and the brain disconnect, leading to skin, muscle, and organ dysfunctions. The disease can go on, even when the person affected has stopped drinking alcohol. [1]

Causes of Alcoholic Neuropathy 

In addition to the aforementioned facts, excessive alcohol consumption can cause a variety of malnutrition-based side effects. Alcohol blocks the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes essential for overall organ and body health.

People struggling with Alcoholism may not maintain healthy diets on a daily basis, therefore many advanced alcoholics are extremely malnourished. Even when the person stops drinking, the malnutrition cycles may still continue because behaviorally the cycle of proper nutrition has not been adjusted to a restorative level to be recovering the body adequately. 

According to the scientific piece ‘Alcoholic Neuropathy’, Sadowski A, Houck RC., published by Pubmed.gov, “studies have shown that up to 66% of patients with chronic alcohol use disorder may have some form of Alcoholic Neuropathy. The cause is multifactorial, from both nutritional deficiencies and alcohol metabolism’s direct toxic effects on neurons”.

Alcoholic neuropathy generally only develops in those who have drunk excessively. It usually takes years to reach this point. Alcohol consumption may not necessarily directly cause neuropathy, but it can contribute to it. Alcohol abuse has also been associated with some other conditions that have neuropathy as a primary symptom, i.e., alcoholic peripheral neuropathy and diabetic neuropathy Alcoholic neuropathy is more common among those who drink alcohol excessively

Alcoholic Neuropathy
Alcoholic Neuropathy is a common disorder among individuals with AUD.

Alcohol consumption may not necessarily directly cause alcoholic neuropathy but it can contribute to the condition Alcohol abuse has also been associated with some other conditions that have alcoholic neuropathy as a primary symptom, Alcoholic peripheral neuropathy is more common among those who drink alcohol excessively Alcohol consumption may not necessarily directly cause Alcoholic peripheral neuropathy but it can contribute to the condition, it is difficult to tell how much alcohol causes Neuropathy because every person’s body chemistry is different.

[2] In another article of the same kind, ‘Alcoholic Neuropathy’, Koike, Haruki, Sobue, Gen., published by Current Opinion in Neurology, this conclusion is reinforced, and in addition, they conclude that the thiamine deficiency represents a common aspect of people suffering from this condition. “Nutritional deficiency, as well as the direct neurotoxic effects of ethanol or its metabolites, can cause alcoholic Neuropathy. Although clinicopathologic features of the pure form of alcoholic Neuropathy are uniform, they show extensive variation when thiamine deficiency is present”. [3]

Alcoholic Neuropathy Symptoms

Alcoholic Neuropathy may start with a tingling, numbness, pain, and weakness often in the hands or feet. However, it may spread to other parts of the body, including legs, arms, and torso. This condition affects sensation, but also can have an effect on the movement of your body once it spreads. Over time, additional symptoms appear and increase in severity.

This discomfort makes it harder to move around or do things, even when sober. [1] “Nerve damage from this condition is usually permanent. Your symptoms are likely to get worse if you don’t stop drinking. This could lead to disability, chronic pain, and damage to your arms and legs. However, if caught early enough, you can minimize the damage from Alcoholic Neuropathy. Avoiding alcohol and improving your diet can sometimes lead to a moderate to full recovery”. [4]

These are the main areas of the body Alcoholic Neuropathy can affect:  

  • Arms and Legs
    • Numbness
    • Tingling and burning
    • Prickly sensations
    • Muscle spasms and cramps
    • Muscle weakness and atrophy
    • Loss of muscle functioning
    • Movement disorders
  • Urinary and Bowel
    • Incontinence
    • Constipation
    • Diarrhea
    • Problems starting urination
    • Feeling that the bladder hasn’t been emptied fully
  • Other
    • Sexual dysfunction
    • Impotence
    • Impaired speech
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Heat intolerance, particularly following exercise
    • Vomiting and nausea
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Diagnosing Alcoholic Neuropathy

To detect this condition, it is necessary for a physician to perform a thorough examination. Also, it is very important for the patient to disclose a detailed and accurate history of any drug or alcohol abuse to get an accurate diagnosis. The doctor will have to discount other potential causes for your symptoms. Tests that may identify other potential causes of neuropathy include:

  • Nerve biopsy
  • Nerve conduction tests
  • Upper GI and small bowel series
  • Neurological examination
  • Electromyography
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
  • Kidney, thyroid, and liver function tests
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
Blood tests can also identify vitamin deficiencies that are linked to both nerve health and alcohol use. Your physician may test for the following levels:
  • Niacin
  • Thiamine
  • Folate
  • Vitamins B6 and B12
  • Biotin and pantothenic acid
  • Vitamins E and A

Preventing Alcoholic Neuropathy 

It is possible to avoid this condition by:

  • Abstaining from Alcohol use
  • Ceasing drinking if you have any symptoms of neuropathy
  • Seeking professional treatment if you find it hard to avoid alcohol
  • Eating a balanced and healthy diet
  • Taking physician-recommended supplements if needed

Treatment for Alcoholic Neuropathy

Alcoholic Neuropathy
Alcoholic Neuropathy

The first and most important aspect of the treatment for Alcoholic Neuropathy is to stop drinking permanently in order to recover from this condition. The starting point may begin with alcohol detox, depending on the severity of substance abuse. This almost always requires inpatient care due to the potentially fatal complications of withdrawal.

Once alcohol is removed from the equation, the next step of the treatment can focus on the treatment of Alcoholic Neuropathy itself. The following therapies combined with other types of diverse treatments may be used to treat this condition: 

  • Vitamin supplements to improve nerve health (folate, thiamine, niacin, and vitamins B6, B12, and E)
  • Prescription medications
  • 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 prevent dizziness

As stated by Adam Sadowski and Richard C. Houck, in their scientific piece ‘Alcoholic Neuropathy’, “Treatment should be focused on therapy to stop alcohol abuse. The overall prognosis is favorable. Abstinence for several months up to a few years has shown both clinical examination and electroneurographic improvements, with most patients showing complete regain of function.

Additional treatment includes replacing nutrients such as thiamine, vitamin-B12, and folic acid. Psychiatry referral, alcohol abstinence abuse programs, and support groups have shown favorable ways to help patients recover from alcohol use disorder. Physical therapy and occupational therapy can play a role in supporting the patient as they regain movement and perform everyday functions”. [2]

This is a condition you can recover from, as long as it is addressed properly and on time. If you’re suffering from Alcoholic Neuropathy and feel like you just can’t stop drinking, we can offer the support you need. We Level Up Treatment Center can provide you, or someone you know, the tools to treat alcoholism in a professional and safe way.

Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors, we can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information, our specialists know what you are going through. Have in mind that each call is private and confidential.

Sources: 

[1] What is alcoholic neuropathy? – Recoverydirect.co.za                                                                                             

[2] Sadowski A, Houck RC. Alcoholic Neuropathy. 2020 Sep 19. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan. – Pubmed.gov                                                                                            

[3] Koike, Haruki; Sobue, Gen Alcoholic neuropathy, Current Opinion in Neurology: October 2006 – Volume 19 – Issue 5 – p 481-486. – Current Opinion in Neurology                                                                                                  

[4] The Aftereffects of Alcoholism: Alcoholic Neuropathy – Healthline.com