Peripheral neuropathy can happen for a few reasons, but it always stems from damage to the nerves around the brain and spinal cord. The damage stops these “peripheral” nerves from sending the right signals through your body, so it can cause symptoms ranging from limb numbness to speech impairments.
While peripheral neuropathy can be caused by diabetes or exposure to toxins, it is often a result of alcohol abuse. When peripheral nerves are injured by alcohol, it’s called alcoholic neuropathy, and it is a serious issue for those living with the condition. Keep reading to learn more about the relationship between peripheral neuropathy and alcohol
Background on Neuropathies
Peripheral neuropathy can stem from a variety of causes, but it always comes from damage to the nerves around the brain and spinal cord. This damage stops your “peripheral” nerves (the ones that send signals to and from your arms, legs, etc.) from sending the right signals through the body. In turn, symptoms ranging from tingling and numbness to speech impairment can abound.
While peripheral neuropathy can develop due to diabetes or exposure to dangerous toxins, it most often results from alcohol abuse. When your peripheral nerves are injured by alcohol, you may suffer from alcoholic neuropathy, a fairly serious issue caused by alcohol consumption.
Peripheral Neuropathy and Alcohol
Despite alcohol’s popularity, long-term use can cause permanent damage to the peripheral nerves. When you repeatedly abuse alcohol, it can change the levels of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, thiamine, folate, and other vitamins, creating nutritional and vitamin deficiencies and damaging your nerves. This nerve damage is the direct result of the problems caused by peripheral neuropathy and alcohol.
Because your peripheral nerves need these vitamins to work, an imbalance can stop them from sending signals from one part of your body to another. People with alcoholic neuropathy may notice a mild pain or tingling feeling in their arms or legs at first. However, symptoms can get more severe with continued alcohol abuse and/or without treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
One of the major ways that peripheral neuropathy and alcohol are linked is in the resulting symptoms. Because the peripheral nerves control a wide variety of bodily functions, symptoms can vary from person to person. Milder symptoms may include:
- loss of feeling in the hands or feet
- a tingling feeling like “pins and needles”
- muscle spasms
- muscle weakness
- loss of balance
Unfortunately, many people living with peripheral neuropathy experience more severe symptoms. These can develop after long-term alcohol abuse. It’s worth noting that very few people experience all of these issues. The major symptoms include:
You should also note that many people with peripheral neuropathy have problems beyond the symptoms of nerve damage. For example, losing feeling in your arms and legs can cause you to bump into objects more often. Because you don’t feel discomfort in those affected limbs, your brain doesn’t register pain when you run into obstacles, resulting in repeated injuries.
Similar problems include:
- Risk of Infection: Not feeling pain in your limbs may make you less likely to take care of sensitive wounds. This may cause additional bleeding or, in severe cases, infection.
- Falls: When peripheral nerve damage causes loss of sensation in your feet, you are less able to naturally balance yourself when you walk. If this happens, you may feel dizzy or unbalanced while standing, which can cause dangerous falls when completing daily tasks such as running errands or showering.
Since these symptoms can impact your daily life, you should seek a diagnosis as soon as possible to start treatment. If you experience any of the above symptoms and/or have a history of alcohol abuse, contact your doctor for an examination.
Getting a Diagnosis for Peripheral Neuropathy and Alcoholism
For an accurate diagnosis, set up an exam with your doctor to review both your symptoms and history of peripheral neuropathy and alcohol use. Be honest with your doctor about your drinking history. It can feel embarrassing, but they’re their to help, and being straightforward is essential to receiving an accurate diagnosis.
After you and your doctor have discussed your history of peripheral neuropathy and alcohol use, they may choose to run some tests. The most common tests for alcoholic neuropathy include:
The end goal is to figure out what exactly is causing your issues. Once you have been diagnosed, you can start looking at your treatment options.
There is no “cure” for peripheral neuropathy, but treatment can ease some of the symptoms and prevent further damage to your sensitive nerve tissue.
How to Treat Peripheral Neuropathy
First, the biggest step in treating peripheral neuropathy is to stop drinking alcohol as soon as possible. Alcohol abuse will only further hurt your nerve tissue, making symptoms that much harder to treat. If you need help to stop drinking, inpatient rehab can help start your recovery for both peripheral neuropathy and alcohol addiction.
After you have stopped drinking alcohol, your doctor will be able to treat the alcoholic neuropathy. Sadly, nerve damage is permanent. However, you and your doctor can find ways to treat and minimize your symptoms to help you return to your normal life. Your treatment options may include:
On top of these medical treatments, your doctor might refer you to a dietician who can help you find a diet that fits your lifestyle and gives you the vitamins that your damaged peripheral nerves need. There may never be a time when your body is 100% “healed” from peripheral neuropathy and alcoholism, but don’t let that discourage you from getting the treatment that you need.
Living with Alcoholic Neuropathy
Left untreated, alcoholic neuropathy can seriously damage your nerve tissue and cause chronic pain and loss of bodily functions. However, recognizing symptoms early and getting immediate treatment can help you maintain a high quality of life.
Your recovery will depend on how much alcohol your nerve tissue was exposed to as well as how long you drank alcohol. But, by avoiding alcohol in the future and getting treatment as soon as possible, people with neuropathy can make partial or full recoveries.
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