What is Alcoholic Neuropathy?
Chronic alcohol use is a disease that affects almost every aspect of your life. In addition to putting strain on your relationships and increasing your risk of accidents, it also takes a major toll on your health. One of the rarely discussed risks of chronic alcohol abuse is alcoholic neuropathy, a progressive neurological disease that damages your nerves. If you have questions about alcohol abuse or alcoholic neuropathy, call our helpline today at 800-839-1686Who Answers?.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy
Any type of peripheral neuropathy involves damage to the nerve endings, particularly in the hands and feet. Alcoholic neuropathy generally occurs after years of chronic, large amounts of alcohol consumption. Some of the symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy include the following:
- Pain, especially in the fingers and toes, which may feel like a “pins and needles” sensation
- Muscle spasms or cramps
- Muscle weakness or aches
- Burning or tingling sensations
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty with urination
- Impotence in men
How is Alcoholic Neuropathy Diagnosed?
Peripheral neuropathy occurs in many other health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disorders. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, peripheral neuropathy due to any cause—including alcoholism—usually involves a series of tests.
Nerve conduction velocity tests measure the degree of damage. Nerve biopsy removes a small piece of tissue, usually from the lower leg. Although nerve biopsy can determine the amount of nerve damage that has already occurred, the procedure itself can cause additional side effects. Lab tests such as serum chemistries and an upper GI series may also be performed for diagnostic purposes.
Is Alcoholic Neuropathy Reversible?
The common wisdom says that alcoholic neuropathy is rarely reversible once it has set in. Those who already have nerve damage are advised to stop drinking to prevent further damage in the future. But some people report that some of their nerve function does return to normal if they quit drinking. It’s also important to stop other behaviors, such as cigarette smoking, which further contribute to peripheral neuropathy.
Nutritional Deficiencies Mimic Alcoholic Neuropathy
Many people who struggle with alcohol abuse also have nutritional deficiencies, particularly if they have consumed large amounts of alcohol for many years. Deficiencies of key nutrients such as vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B12, folate and vitamin E.
Chronic alcoholism almost always causes nutritional deficiencies, both because of the changes in liver function and because of poor diet. These nutritional deficiencies alone have symptoms that are very similar to alcoholic neuropathy. According to a study reported in the journal Muscle Nerve, thiamine deficiency in particular is strongly linked to the development of alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy.
How to Deal with Alcoholic Neuropathy
Alcoholic neuropathy is progressive and tends to get worse the longer you drink and the more you drink. Even though alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy is not always reversible, quitting drinking as soon as possible can at least stop symptoms from getting worse.
Supplement your diet with B vitamins to reverse nutritional deficiencies that may be contributing to your symptoms. Use of pain medication, particularly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can also help to alleviate related pain. You may also benefit from physical therapy and using orthotic devices to help manage the loss of sensation. It’s especially important that you closely follow all safety recommendations. Your nerve damage makes you more vulnerable to burns and falls.
If your alcohol use has progressed to the point that you’ve developed neuropathy, it is very likely that you will need help to stop drinking. Call the knowledgeable experts today at 800-839-1686Who Answers? to begin your road to healing.