Alcoholic Neuropathy

In simple terms, alcoholic neuropathy is a decreased level of functioning in certain nerves. This decreased function is caused by long-term, excessive drinking.

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While this condition is often seen in those with long-term drinking issues, it is not always seen. Alcohol neuropathy may also be exacerbated by nutritional problems often linked with those who drink to excess. In either case, the effects are caused by the toxic influence of substances on the nerve tissue itself.

It should be kept in mind that not all persons with alcoholic neuropathy will have the same symptoms. Some may have more of the symptoms, while others may have fewer.

The common signs and symptoms of alcohol neuropathy include:

  • A sense of weakness in arms, legs, hands, and feet.
  • Numbness in hands or feet.
  • Tingling sensations in either arms or legs.
  • A burning sensation in the feet.
  • An abnormal sensation of pins and needles.
  • Muscle aches or cramps.
  • Intolerance to heat.
  • Sexual impotency in men.
  • Problems urinating.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Constipation or diarrhea.
  • Speech difficulties.
  • Loss of feeling in muscles.
  • Difficulty in swallowing.

Alcoholic neuropathy occurs more often in the drinker’s legs than in their arms. It should also be noted that this disease process takes place over time. Those who have been heavy drinkers for at least ten years are most at risk.

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The best way to determine if an individual is having this health problem is to have medical professionals perform certain neurological tests. If alcohol neuropathy is present the tests will return abnormal results and treatments can begin. An eye exam may be needed in order to see if there is any decreased pupil response issues. This can be an indicator that a problem is present with the nerve tissues.

It is not uncommon for medical professionals to also check nutritional levels in heavy drinkers. These tests may reveal lowered levels of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), thiamine (vitamin B1), pantothenic acid and biotin, vitamin B12, niacin (vitamin B3), folic acid, vitamin A, as well as other deficiencies.

Treatment Options For Alcoholic Neuropathy

The effectiveness of treatment regimes will vary from one person to another. The longer a person has been drinking heavily the less effective the treatments may be. As a matter of course, it should be kept in mind that no treatment regime will be very effective if the person continues to drink.

In general, the treatment course for alcohol neuropathy involves handling the individual symptoms on a case by case basis. Physical therapy is often included for those who have lost muscle function and strength. More often than not, supplemental diets including thiamine and folic acid are recommended.

For those experiencing pain or abnormal sensations, medications may be prescribed. It should be noted that responses to medication will vary from person to person. Persons who are put on medication of this type are usually put on the very minimal amount in order to prevent dependency issues.

Other types of treatments may include wearing elastic stockings, consuming extra salt, adjusting sleeping positions so that the head is elevated, and using blanket frames to keep covers off of the legs.


Those suffering from alcoholic neuropathy should understand that damage to the nerves is usually permanent. If drinking continues, the effects of the disease will only continue and increase. Depending on the person, the symptoms of alcohol neuropathy vary from mildly uncomfortable to complete disability. The disorder is generally not life-threatening but can greatly affect the quality of life for those with it.

If you or a loved one are exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above and drink, you should contact your health care professional as soon as possible for testing.

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More than alcoholic neuropathy on our alcoholism stages page

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