Neuropathy Due to Alcohol Abuse- Pain and Numbness in Extremities

Alcohol is like a poison. It affects almost all parts of the body, slowly damaging them. Initially, when a person starts taking alcohol, he is not conscious about what this poison is doing inside the body. However, as the period of consumption of alcohol increases, symptoms of the damages it has caused start appearing.

Alcoholic Neuropathy

Chronic consumers of alcohol often complain of pain and numbness in their extremities.This is likely to be neuropathy due to alcohol. Alcohol acts in two ways on the nerves:

  • Works as a direct poisoning
  • Alcoholism leads to poor nutrition. Vitamin B deficiencies are often associated with it. This further weakens the nerves.

Symptoms

Patient gives symptoms like-

  • Numbness in the arms and legs
  • Abnormal sensations- “pins and needles”
  • Painful sensations in the arms and legs
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps or muscle aches
  • Problems urinating
  • Incontinence (leaking urine)
  • Constipation or Diarrhea
  • Heat intolerance, especially after some work
  • Sometimes, speech impairment

Lab Investigations

Since neuropathies may be caused by other medical conditions too, we first confirm the diagnosis before treatment. This is done by testing blood for deficiency (lack) of:

  • Thiamine (vitamin B1)
  • Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
  • Pantothenic acid and biotin
  • Vitamin B12
  • Folic acid
  • Niacin (vitamin B3)

Additional tests may be done to rule out other possible causes of neuropathy. To list a few these would include diabetes, thyroid related problems, autoimmune disorders.

Treatment

  1. Supplement the diet with vitamins, including thiamine and folic acid. This will slowly strengthen the nerves. However, this will take time, around a month or two. One has to be patient.
  2. Meanwhile medication can be taken to control pain or uncomfortable sensations. Patients are advised to take the least amount of medication needed to reduce symptoms, to help prevent drug dependence and other side effects of chronic use.
  3. Common medications may include over-the-counter analgesics such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen to reduce pain. Tricyclic antidepressants or anticonvulsant medications may help stabbing pains.
  4. Positioning, or the use of a bed frame that keeps the covers off the legs, may reduce pain for some people.
  5. Never take alcohol again to prevent the damage from getting worse.
  6. Treatment for alcoholism requires psychiatric therapy and social support as well. Sometimes, sharing and talking to people with similar condition is very helpful.

Take Care,

Buddy M.D.