Alcoholic Neuropathy - Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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As Dr. Siwek mentions in this week's episode of the Pain Channel, 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 Neuropathy?

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 sensation
  • tingling in the feet/hands
  • weak ankles
  • weakened muscles and a burning feeling in the feet.

Gastrointestinal symptoms can include:

  • loose bowel movements
  • 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.


Treatment of Alcohol Neuropathy

Most pain doctors in Arizona will tell you that there is no known cure for alcohol neuropathy, but there are successful pain management and treatment methods to help patients get back into life. At this point, when a patient has been diagnosed with alcohol neuropathy, a pain doctor's best intention is to control the pain. Once that damage has been done from this chronic condition, unfortunately it cannot be undone. However, the pain can be controlled.


Obtaining from alcohol consumption will be the pain doctor's first course of treatment. Whether it's through counseling, Alcoholic's Anonymous meetings, or in-house psychological evaluations, kicking the habit is the first step. This will be the toughest step for anyone living with alcohol neuropathy.


Next, your pain doctor will want to manage your nutritional intake through medication and a strict diet. Using a multidisciplinary team of industry experts, your pain doctor will no doubt sit you down with a nutritionist to determine the best course to get you back on track with a healthy diet. Multivitamins are also a key aspect in nourishing your body.


Physical therapy is usually called for in cases of alcohol neuropathy due to the great damage that has been done to the nerves. Since motor loss is a symptom of this chronic condition, your pain doctor will want to bring blood flow and life back into the affected areas of your body. One of the best ways to do this is through exercise and physical therapy.


Most individuals who abuse alcohol are also at great risk for abusing pain medication while going through pain management treatment, which is always a concern for pain doctors in Arizona. According to NYTimes Health, the least amount of medication needed to reduce symptoms is advised, to reduce dependence and other side effects of chronic use.


Common medications may include over-the-counter analgesics such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen to reduce pain. Stabbing pains may respond to tricyclic antidepressants or anticonvulsant medications such as phenytoin, gabapentin, or carbamazepine.


While it's deemed impossible to reverse the damage already done to the body's nerves, pain doctors can help patients living with alcoholic neuropathy reduce and control pain and get back into life. Of course, the best way to prevent this chronic condition is to respect your alcohol intake, but if you are suffering from this debilitating condition speak immediately to an Arizona pain specialist about your options at

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Kandice Day has 1 articles online

Kandice is the CEO and founder of Linwright Design, a Gilbert web design and marketing company that focuses on content marketing. Google for more information.

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This article was published on 2011/04/09