Alcoholic Neuropathy

Written by Abby Doty

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Last Updated - 4/25/2023

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Updated 04/25/2023

Alcoholic neuropathy is a neurological disorder caused by excessive long-term alcohol consumption. It can lead to damaged nerves, adverse side effects and other complications. By understanding alcoholic neuropathy’s causes, symptoms and treatments, it’s possible to move toward a healthier and happier life.

What Is Alcoholic Neuropathy? 

Alcoholic neuropathy is a progressive nerve disorder that results from long-term, excessive alcohol use. The condition occurs when nerves responsible for carrying signals between the spinal cord and the rest of the body are damaged by alcohol. 

Because these nerves play a crucial role in our daily functions, the symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy can severely affect your quality of life. Symptoms include:

  • Tingling, numbness or burning sensations in the hands and feet
  • Muscle weakness
  • Atrophy
  • Difficulty coordinating movements
  • Incontinence
  • Difficulty walking
  • Inability to move certain parts of the body

Alcohol can result in neuropathy because it has a direct toxic effect on the nerves, causing damage and dysfunction. Alcoholism also often leads to nutritional deficiencies which may impair nerve function.

While quitting alcohol is important in treating and preventing alcoholic neuropathy, it is not always enough to halt the progression or reverse the damage caused. Additional treatments, such as nutritional supplements, physical therapy and pain management, may be necessary to optimize nerve function. Even with treatment, alcoholic neuropathy is likely to be permanent to some degree.

Symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy

Symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy may vary, but they can generally be grouped into sensory, motor and autonomic categories. Identifying these symptoms is key to understanding the progression of this condition.

Sensory symptoms of this condition involve changes in sensation, which may worsen at night and gradually spread to other parts of the body as the condition progresses. People can experience tingling, burning or numbness in the hands and feet or a heightened sensitivity to touch.

Motor symptoms include muscle weakness, cramps and spasms, particularly in the lower limbs. Over time, severe muscle weakness may result in muscle atrophy, loss of reflexes and difficulty maintaining balance.

Autonomic symptoms affect the body’s involuntary processes, impairing the proper functioning of organs and systems. These symptoms can include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness 
  • Decreased ability to sweat

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Causes of Alcoholic Neuropathy

The main cause of alcoholic neuropathy is not well understood. It is thought to be caused by the direct toxic effect of alcohol on the nerve cells. Elevated levels of toxins in the body and inflammation caused by alcohol  may be responsible for harming the nerves and hindering their ability to function properly. 

Alcoholism also often results in other medical conditions, such as liver disease and diabetes. These conditions can further increase the risk of nerve damage and intensify the symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy. 

Recognizing and addressing these underlying causes, along with seeking professional help to overcome alcohol addiction, is critical in preventing further damage. 

Is Alcoholic Neuropathy Reversible? 

For some people, alcoholic neuropathy may be partially reversible, but this depends on several factors. Most importantly, the individual must completely quit alcohol use. Doing so can help halt the progression of neuropathy and allow the nervous system to begin healing.

Proper nutrition and vitamin intake are important for optimal recovery. Ensuring a well-balanced diet and taking vitamin supplements as directed by a healthcare professional can give the body the resources it needs to repair damaged nerves to some extent.

Early detection and treatment can also help with alcoholic neuropathy. The sooner an individual seeks medical support, the greater the likelihood of regaining as much nerve function as possible. Treatment may include medications for pain management, physical therapy to improve strength and mobility, and counseling to address the underlying issues related to alcohol addiction.

Treatment Options for Alcoholic Neuropathy

Treatment for alcoholic neuropathy requires an approach that targets both alcohol use disorder (AUD) and neuropathy symptoms. If left untreated, alcoholic neuropathy can become more severe and affect a person’s overall quality of life.

Addressing an individual’s AUD is important in treating alcoholic neuropathy. Support may include detoxing from alcohol, participating in a treatment program and joining Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other support groups.

Under the guidance of a healthcare professional, patients may integrate pain management, healthy diet, physical therapy and exercise into their treatment plan. Additionally, engaging in stress reduction techniques such as meditation or yoga may help improve overall health and wellness.

Get Help for Alcoholism 

The road to recovering from alcoholic neuropathy may be difficult, but with the right support and resources, it is possible to regain control over one’s life and health.

If you or a loved one is struggling with these conditions, it is vital to seek help and support to overcome the challenges. The Recovery Village Columbus offers comprehensive, evidence-based treatment programs to meet your needs and facilitate your healing journey.

The team of treatment professionals can work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan. Treatment options include:

  • Detoxification
  • Inpatient care
  • Outpatient care
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Recreational therapies

Reach out to a Recovery Advocate today to begin the process of healing from alcoholism and neuropathy. With the help of experienced professionals and a supportive community, you can begin a sober and healthy life.

View Sources

Sadowski, Adam & Houck, Richard C. “Alcoholic Neuropathy.” STATPearls. September 12, 2022. Accessed May 18, 2023.

The University of Chicago. “Types of Peripheral Neuropathy – Toxic/Secondary to Drugs.” April 16, 2010. Accessed May 18, 2023.

Campellone, Joseph V. “Alcoholic neuropathy.” MedlinePlus. May 4, 2021. Accessed May 18, 2023.

Chopra, Kanwaljit & Tiwari, Vinod. “Alcoholic neuropathy: possible mechanisms and future treatment possibilities.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. March, 2012.  Accessed May 18, 2023.

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