Alcoholic Neuropathy Part I - Causes - Symptoms

Alcoholic Neuropathy Part I - Causes - Symptoms

As Dr. Siwek mentions in this week's episode of the Pain
, April is Alcohol Awareness Month. When we think of alcohol awareness,
the first things that pop into our minds are drunk driving, designated drivers,
and sobriety tests, right? Popular culture has taught us to correlate drinking
with driving consequences. But Alcohol Awareness Month is truly about the
health consequences associated with alcoholism such as neurologic
complications, vitamin deficiencies, liver disease, and much more.


Neurologic complications of alcohol
abuse may also result from nutritional deficiency, because alcoholics tend to
eat poorly and may become depleted of thiamine or other vitamins
important for nervous system function. Persons who are intoxicated are also at
higher risk for head injury or for compression injuries of the
peripheral nerves. Sudden changes in blood chemistry, especially sodium,
related to alcohol abuse may cause central pontine myelinolysis, a condition of
the brainstem in which nerves lose their myelin coating. Liver disease
complicating alcoholic cirrhosis may cause dementia, delirium,
and movement disorder.


What is Alcoholic

Alcoholic neuropathy, also known as alcoholic
polyneuropathy, is the direct result of overconsumption of alcohol over
extended periods of time. Unfortunately, alcoholics to not eat right, nor exercise,
so their bodies slowly become deficient in several nutritional areas. There is
a continual debate over whether it is the alcohol itself, or malnutrition that
accompanies alcoholism, which is the root cause of alcoholic neuropathy.


The causes of alcoholic neuropathy are extensive, from irregular
lifestyles leading to missed meals and poor diets, to a complete loss of
appetite, alcoholic gastritis, constant vomiting, and damaging of the lining of
the gastrointestinal system. All of these symptoms cause nutritional
deficiencies, and when the lining of the gastrointestinal system becomes
compromised, the body is not able to absorb the proper nutrients.


Alcohol consumption in extremes can also increase the toxins
within a person's body such as ethanol and acetaldehyde, which many believe are
directly linked to alcoholic neuropathy.


What are the Symptoms
of Alcoholic Neuropathy?

In most cases, alcoholic neuropathy sets gradually into the
body so that the individual does not realize they have this condition until it
is deeply rooted within their system. While weight loss is an early warning
sign, it is also a side effect of heavy drinking, so most individuals with
alcohol conditions do not realize what their body is trying to tell them. Painful
paralysis and motor loss is the first symptom that individuals tend to truly
take notice of. According to, the following is a list
of possible symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy:


Normal symptoms can include:

  • loss of
  • tingling in the
  • weak ankles
  • weakened muscles
    and a burning feeling in the feet.

Gastrointestinal symptoms can include:

  • loose bowel
  • feelings of
    nausea, possibly vomiting and constipation.

Men may experience:

  • the inability to
    hold liquid (incontinence)
  • and even
    impotence in some cases.

In severe occurrences of alcoholic neuropathy:

  • the autonomic
    nerves are damaged
  • autonomic
    functions are involuntary, like the heart beat and respiration.


Because this chronic condition effects the brain and nerves,
pain can be intense and constant, sharp and quick, or dull and prolonged, and
cramping may occur in muscles without warning.


Jump to Alcoholic Neuropathy Part II - Treatment

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