If you’re a heavy drinker, or were a heavy drinker for 10 years or longer, you could suffer from a condition called alcoholic neuropathy. While the exact link between alcohol and neuropathy is unknown, it’s suspected that alcohol works to destroy nerve endings over time. Symptoms may include numbness in the arms and legs as well as muscle cramps and difficulty moving.
The Effects of Alcohol on the Body
There are many different effects alcohol can have on the body. First, it may lead to dehydration, which can cause vital organs to suffer damage or shutdown. This may be exasperated on hot and humid days when the body needs more water to function. Another effect of alcohol on the body is that it reduces the body’s ability to absorb key nutrients, such as folic acid and niacin.
If a doctor determines that an individual has alcoholic neuropathy, it may be necessary to begin a diet high in such nutrients along with others the body may not have had access to since the drinking began. Over time, the person may start to feel the muscles and limbs working better, which can relieve other issues, such as not being able to go to the bathroom or feeling as if one cannot go completely.
Another effect alcohol can have on the body includes hardening of the liver. This is known as cirrhosis and can be fatal. While people generally have to drink large quantities of alcohol over several years to develop this condition, those who’ve been drinking for short periods of time may develop cirrhosis of the liver if they drink hard enough.
Alcohol can lower sex drive and impact mood. After a person finishes drinking, she may crave the next drink or feel as if she cannot operate without alcohol in her system. This could lead to lower motivation at work and difficulty maintaining relationships.
The Relationship Between Alcohol and Neuropathy
Although the cause of neuropathy remains to be determined, there’s a clear link between alcohol and neuropathy. It’s thought that the ethanol in alcohol may be what denies the body the nutrients it needs to keep muscles healthy and functioning. Over time, ethanol and other toxins can stay in the bloodstream, which makes it harder for the right nutrients to be absorbed and put to use by the body.
This is why those who’ve been drinking for several years, or heavily for any period of time, may start to notice degraded muscle function. Researchers believe that those who drink may not get enough vitamin B in their systems due to the ethanol in their bodies, which leads to the death of peripheral nerves.
Researchers first discovered that there may be a link between ethanol, a lack of vitamin B and neuropathy in the 19th century. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century when scientists and researchers began to believe with confidence that this is the case. Still, doctors and healthcare professionals will run other tests to make sure that neuropathy is the cause of muscle weakness or numbness in the limbs.
In some cases, muscle issues can be due to unrelated kidney problems or a low level of electrolytes. In that scenario, water, additional electrolytes or medication can be used to control the problem.
What Happens if Neuropathy Is the Cause of Muscle Issues?
If it’s determined that muscle problems are being caused by neuropathy related to alcohol use, a treatment plan will be devised. Patients may be asked to wear compression stockings, or to sleep in a tilted or upright position at night. The immediate goal for doctors is to stabilize the condition and manage symptoms.
When medication is prescribed to those suffering from issues related to neuropathy, the least amount of medication will be offered to treat symptoms. This is because those who are or were dependent on alcohol may develop a dependency on their new medications. Using too much medication can also lead to side effects that may or may not be foreseen when the medication is prescribed.
In addition to special clothing or medication, physical therapy may also be part of a rehabilitation plan. During the course of physical therapy, the muscles may be strengthened and nerves regenerated to some degree. This could allow an individual to walk again, or at least feel less numbness in the extremities.
Heavy use of alcohol and neuropathy often go hand-in-hand. If you or someone you know is having issues with muscle use or suffers from numbness and drinks alcohol, it may be worthwhile to call the helpline at 800-447-9081 for more information. From there, you can help yourself, close friend or family member develop a strategy to negate or fully overcome the issue.