Alcoholic neuropathy is damage to the nerves that results from excessive drinking of alcohol.
Neuropathy - alcoholic; Alcoholic polyneuropathy
The exact cause of alcoholic neuropathy is unknown. It likely includes both a direct poisoning of the nerve by the alcohol and the effect of poor nutrition associated with alcoholism. Up to half of long-term heavy alcohol users develop this condition.
In severe cases, nerves that regulate internal body functions (autonomic nerves) may be involved.
Symptoms of this condition include any of the following:
Changes in muscle strength or sensation usually occur on both sides of the body and are more common in the legs than in the arms. Symptoms usually develop gradually and become worse over time.
Once the alcohol problem has been addressed, treatment goals include:
It is important to supplement the diet with vitamins, including thiamine and folic acid.
Physical therapy and orthopedic appliances (such as splints) may be needed to maintain muscle function and limb position.
Medicines may be needed to treat pain or uncomfortable sensations. People with alcoholic neuropathy have alcohol use problems. They will be prescribed the smallest dose of medicine needed to reduce symptoms. This may help prevent drug dependence and other side effects of chronic use.
Positioning or the use of a bed frame that keeps the covers off the legs may help reduce pain.
People with lightheadedness or dizziness when standing up (orthostatic hypotension) may need to try several different treatments before finding one that successfully reduces their symptoms. Treatments that may help include:
Bladder problems may be treated with:
Impotence, diarrhea, constipation, or other symptoms are treated when necessary. These symptoms often respond poorly to treatment in people with alcoholic neuropathy.
It is important to protect body parts with reduced sensation from injury. This may include:
Alcohol must be stopped to prevent the damage from getting worse. Treatment for alcoholism may include counseling, social support such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or medicines.
Michelle Mellion is a Neurologist in Providence, Rhode Island. Dr. Mellion has been practicing medicine for over 21 years and is rated as a Distinguished doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Alcoholic Neuropathy. She is also highly rated in 17 other conditions, according to our data. Her top areas of expertise are Alcoholic Neuropathy, Dystrophinopathy, Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Type 1A, and Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Type 2I. She is licensed to treat patients in Rhode Island. Dr. Mellion is currently accepting new patients.
Jon Levine is a Rheumatologist in San Francisco, California. Dr. Levine has been practicing medicine for over 44 years and is rated as a Distinguished doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Alcoholic Neuropathy. He is also highly rated in 10 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Alcoholic Neuropathy, Acute Pain, Peripheral Neuropathy, and Chronic Pain. He is board certified in Rheumatology and licensed to treat patients in California. Dr. Levine is currently accepting new patients.
Vinod Tiwari is in Varanasi, India. Tiwari is rated as a Distinguished expert by MediFind in the treatment of Alcoholic Neuropathy. He is also highly rated in 6 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Alcoholic Neuropathy, Neuralgia, Cockayne Syndrome, and Chronic Pain.
Damage to nerves from alcoholic neuropathy is usually permanent. It is likely to get worse if the person continues to use alcohol or if nutritional problems are not corrected. Alcoholic neuropathy is usually not life-threatening, but it can severely affect quality of life.
Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy.
The only way to prevent alcoholic neuropathy is not to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
Katirji B. Disorders of peripheral nerves. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley's and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 106.
Koppel BS. Nutritional and alcohol-related neurologic disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 388.