As the name suggests, alcoholic neuropathy is caused due to heavy drinking. It is a debilitating condition in which the sufferer’s peripheral nerves that connect limbs, muscles and sensory organs to brain and spinal cord get damaged. The nerve damage manifests as loss of body function, tingling and unusual sensations, and reduced activity. Nearly 65 percent of Americans diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD), or commonly referred as alcohol abuse disorder, also struggle with alcoholic neuropathy.
Alcohol interferes with absorption, processing and transportation of essential nutrients in the body. Excessive intake can lead to malnutrition and nerve damage that increases the likelihood of neuropathy. People drinking without any inhibition generally do not pay attention to the fact that they consume calories with no nutritional value. In addition, they have a tendency to eat processed and junk food that further deprives them of the essential nutrients. Such people are usually deficient in vitamin B6, B12, niacin, thiamine, folate and vitamin E. The deficiency impacts the functioning of nerves, which further deteriorates overall health.
Alcoholic neuropathy manifests in varied ways. In some, there might be only one symptom, while others may exhibit several of them. Some of the warning signs are muscle atrophy, cramps, loss of movement, muscle weakness and numbness, spasms, tingling or pricking, diarrhea, constipation, urinary retention, incontinence, dizziness, difficulty in swallowing, impaired speech, abdominal bloating, temperature sensitivity, sexual dysfunction in men, nausea and vomiting.
Ways to diagnose alcohol-induced neuropathy
Various tests can be done to screen alcoholic neuropathy. Some of these are:
- Blood chemistry test – This examination is done to assess blood sugar levels and the functioning of liver and kidney. It gives an idea about the overall health of a person.
- Complete blood count – This reflects the working of several types of blood cells. It can give an indication about working of the immune system and the amount of oxygen traveling through the body.
- Upper gastrointestinal and small bowel series – These are X-rays conducted to monitor the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Neurological examination – It’s a physical test to analyze a person’s coordination, reflexes, muscle strength and sensory abilities.
- Nerve conduction test – In this, electrodes are placed on the skin to assess the speed and strength of the nerve cells.
- Nerve biopsy – In this test, a small piece of a nerve is taken from the body for biopsy to assess the damage. This is generally carried out under local anesthesia.
- Electromyography – This requires inserting needles under the skin and muscles to measure the electrical activity.
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy – A thin tube is passed through the esophagus to investigate the causes behind nausea and vomiting.
Seeking help for drinking habits
Quitting drinking altogether is not only difficult but also involves risks. Since going cold turkey is risky and painful, one should opt for professional alcohol abuse support. A person can seek an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program, which may include managing the disease with medications, behavioral therapies, group and individual therapy, and other alternate treatment modalities. The best alcohol detox centers provide nutrition-based detox to strengthen body and mind, and include life skills training in their treatment programs to help a recovering person maintain sobriety for long.
If you or a loved one is addicted to alcohol, contact the Alcohol Addiction Helpline of California to find the best treatment service available in your area. Call our 24/7 helpline 855-980-1715 to connect with the finest inpatient alcohol rehab center equipped with evidence-based recovery programs.
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