Alcoholic neuropathy is the name commonly used to describe alcohol-related nerve damage. The condition appears to arise from two partially connected causes: poisoning of nerve tissue caused by excessive alcohol levels and the chronic poor nutrition often found in people affected by alcoholism. Alcohol nerve damage typically occurs gradually over time and presents clear warning signs as it grows worse.
Alcohol and Your Nerves
Alcohol is a toxic substance in the human body. If you limit the amount you consume at any one time, your liver can safely break it down and remove it from your bloodstream before it has a chance to cause problems. However, if you drink more than roughly one drink an hour, you will overwhelm your liver’s detoxifying abilities and start to trigger the potential for damage. One of the many systems negatively impacted by high alcohol levels is your nervous system. The risk for neuropathy (nerve damage) appears when your nerves repeatedly endure alcohol exposure over years of heavy drinking.
Alcohol nerve damage does not occur all at once. Instead, you will notice warning signs that grow more intense and widespread as neuropathy advances. Problems typically first arise in the voluntary nerves in your lower or upper extremities. You may initially notice unusual weakness, pain, numbness or tingling sensations in your feet or your hands. Symptoms in your feet are more common. In most cases, you will notice issues on both sides of your body. As the condition progresses, additional signs may include:
- Weakness, pain, numbness or tingling that spreads to other parts of your upper or lower extremities
- Muscle spasms or muscle aches
A severe case of alcoholic neuropathy may also alter the function of your body’s involuntary or autonomic nerves. Warning signs of this advanced stage of nerve damage progression include:
- Disruptions in your ability to control your bladder (while trying to release or retain urine)
Advanced alcoholic neuropathy may also interfere with your ability to speak or swallow normally. To avoid the development of severe problems, you should see your doctor as soon as you notice any early signs of nerve damage. Sources: U.S. National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus: Alcoholic Neuropathy Mayo Clinic: Peripheral Neuropathy – Symptoms