Alcoholism and Nerve Damage
Alcoholic-related neuropathy (ALN) is a serious and irreversible condition that can lead to severe pain and physical disability. It impacts up to half of chronic drinkers.
Alcoholic neuropathy is a condition that occurs when excessive alcohol consumption damages your nerves. Specifically, alcohol consumption can lead to peripheral neuropathy (ALN).
If you’re suffering from ALN, it means your peripheral nerves have been damaged, which can lead to dysfunction in sensory, motor, and autonomic processes.
Here’s what you need to know about the risks of alcohol-related nerve damage.
If you or someone you love is taking risky moves to try and get drunk, Zinnia Health can help. We offer treatment for alcohol abuse to help individuals overcome addiction and get on the path to living a long, fulfilling life. Ready to learn more? Call our free alcohol helpline at (855) 430-9439 and get answers to your questions.
What is Alcoholic Neuropathy?
Alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy (ALN) can occur when someone drinks a lot of alcohol, which is often the case in individuals suffering from alcohol use disorder.
It’s unknown how exactly alcohol consumption causes alcoholic neuropathy. However, it’s thought to be the result of both direct nerve poisoning caused by alcohol and poor nutrition, which is often a side effect of alcohol addiction.
According to Medline Plus, up to half of long-term heavy alcohol users will develop ALN.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy
ALN can leave a person disabled. People who suffer from ALN often sustain multiple injuries due to falls, and in turn, they can suffer significant head trauma that can contribute to their disability.
Some of the symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy include:
- Feeling pain and numbness in your arms and legs
- “Pins and needles” and other strange sensations throughout your body
- Problems with your muscles, including muscle weakness, aches, spasms, and cramps
- Intolerance to heat, especially after physical exertion
- Incontinence and trouble urinating
- Stomach upset, including constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Trouble talking or swallowing
- Feeling unsteady when walking
Are you worried about alcohol addiction? Zinnia Health can help. Our team of addiction specialists can answer your questions on substance abuse and alcohol use. If you’re ready to take the next step, call our helpline at (855) 430-9439 for more information.
How is ALN Diagnosed?
If you’ve been drinking for awhile, it’s important to get a physical exam and discuss any negative symptoms you may be experiencing. A nerve biopsy, nerve conduction tests, and electromyography (EMG) may all be used in the diagnostic process.
In many cases, chronic drinkers are unable to store and use various vitamins and minerals, so a blood test may be used to see if you’re deficient in certain areas. Some of the most common deficient that could point to ALN include thiamine, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, vitamin B12, folate, vitamin B3, and vitamin A.
There are other causes that can lead to neuropathy besides alcohol, so your healthcare provider may order additional tests to confirm what has caused your symptoms. For instance, they may check your thyroid function, electrolyte levels, and your heart health.
If it is confirmed that your symptoms have been caused by ALN, it’s important to understand the impact this diagnosis can have on your quality of life, along with the steps you can take to try to preserve nerve function.
Treatment for Alcoholic-Related Neuropathy
The first step for addressing alcoholic-related neuropathy is to go through alcohol rehab or otherwise stop drinking. From there, you can work with your healthcare team to determine the best treatment plan based on the severity of your condition.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for ALN. Rather, your treatment program will be built around the goals of controlling your symptoms and preserving your independence for as long as possible. Your healthcare team will also take strides to reduce the risk of injury.
Certain vitamin supplements will likely be provided to you during treatment, including folic acid and thiamine since people with ALN tend to be deficient in these areas.
If you are experiencing weakness or reduced muscle function or control, you may be given orthopedic appliances to improve your stability. You’ll likely also be asked to participate in physical therapy to help regain and maintain your strength.
If you are experiencing pain because of your condition, you may be prescribed pain medication.
However, if you have a history of substance use disorder, you may be suggested to use alternatives to chronic pain medications, like massage or acupuncture.
There are a number of symptoms that can occur with damage to the peripheral nervous system, so it’s important to work closely with your doctor to figure out a plan that’s best for you.
For instance, some people may experience dizziness that may improve with the following:
- Dietary changes
- Special sleeping positions
- Certain medications
- Compression stockings
Many of the side effects that result from ALN will need to be managed individually. For example, bladder problems may require medications of their own or special devices, like the use of catheters.
There is no known reliable cure for ALN. You may need to try many therapies and options before you and your medical team works out what is best to manage your side effects, restore nerve function where possible, and prevent further damage.
Precautions for People With ALN
Because ALN leads to muscle weakness, an unstable gait, and reduced sensation in certain parts of the body (especially the arms and legs), it’s important to take precautions to help prevent falls and injuries.
Some things that your health team might suggest to keep you safe with ALN include:
- Using a thermometer to check the temperature of your bath or shower before you step in
- Switching to shoes that provide a more stable foundation
- Inspecting your feet and shoes often to remove obstructions
- Avoiding pressure on your extremities
If you’ve been diagnosed with ALN and you need help with alcohol addiction treatment, you should seek out a treatment center that’s prepared to help you manage your co-occurring disorders and symptoms while effectively treating your alcohol use disorder.
How Zinnia Health Can Help With Alcohol Addiction
Heavy drinkers may experience a number of health scares, not short of liver failure and severe health implications like ALN. But, that doesn’t make it any easier to stop drinking.
At Zinnia Health, we know that addiction is a mental health condition, and that’s why we’re determined to help individuals overcome it through support groups, proven therapies, and a holistic approach to wellness.
We offer a range of treatment options including inpatient and outpatient care designed around the individual. Whether you’re beginning to experience the signs of ALN, like decreased muscle strength, or if you’re trying to get away from drinking before alcohol causes irreversible damage to your body, we can help.
At our treatment centers, we provide:
- Individual, peer, and family counseling
- One-on-one, customized treatment pathways
- A team of experienced, caring providers