Alcoholic Neuropathy

Damage to the nerves from chronic excessive alcohol consumption. It can cause numbness, tingling, burning, a prickly sensation, muscle spasms and cramps, muscles weakness, atrophy, loss of muscle functioning, and movement disorders in the arms and legs. It can also affect bowel and bladder function, causing incontinence, constipation, diarrhea, and problems with urination.

Medical researchers don’t agree on exactly what causes alcoholic neuropathy. Alcohol can have direct damaging effects on nerves by damaging the axons, the structures that transmit nerve impulses, and the myelin sheath around nerves. Chronic alcohol abuse can also lead to nutritional deficiencies, particularly in thiamine, due to poor gastrointestinal absorption.

The most important step people can take to treat alcoholic neuropathy is to stop drinking — with the help of a doctor, if necessary. It is also treated with vitamin supplements that include thiamine, folate, niacin, and vitamins B6, B12, and E. Other treatments include tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline (brand name Elavil) and anticonvulsants such as gapapentin (Neurontin). Painful sensations may be treated with over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin or acetaminophen or the topical analgesic capsaicin (Dolorac or Zostrix).

See your doctor if you experience the symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy, even if you don’t drink, because other serious medical conditions may cause these symptoms.

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