Alcoholic neuropathy: causes, effects and treatment

Neuropathies, or clinical disorders of the nervous system, are a large group of heterogeneous diseases that they affect the nerves responsible for the work of the body. While some affect the peripheral nervous system, resulting in impaired motor skills and sensitivity, others attack the autonomic nervous system.

Alcoholic neuropathy, a nervous system disorder caused by alcohol consumptionThis is peripheral assignment. Let us see how the nerve damage of alcoholic origin manifests itself.

    Alcoholic Neuropathy Clinic

    People addicted to alcohol suffer from serious effects on their nervous system. Almost 10% of alcoholics consume large doses of ethanol chronically, they end up suffering from alcoholic neuropathy in some of its forms.

    These patients with alcoholic neuropathy they suffer damage to the axons of neurons motors and those in charge of sensitivity. Bilateral paresthesias occur in the arms and legs, numbness, tingling, and paresthesias, which are more pronounced on the hands and feet. In addition, disturbances in walking and posture can occur due to degeneration or atrophy of the cerebellum, as well as nystagmus, a brief, involuntary movement of the eye.

    Fortunately, the involvement of the autonomic nervous system, which maintains vital functions such as breathing, heart contractions, etc. it is benign in this disease. The most relevant autonomic symptom is the inability to get and maintain an erection, that is, impotence. However, there are autonomic symptoms when alcoholic neuropathy is accompanied by a syndrome characteristic of alcohol-dependent people: Wernicke’s disease.

      Wernicke’s encephalopathy

      Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which is not exclusive but specific to alcoholics, is the inability to move your eyes, difficulty coordinating movements organized and a confusing state where the patient is absolutely disoriented. When someone suffers from this disease in conjunction with alcoholic neuropathy, it is called polyneuropathy because the two syndromes coexist.

      It’s a medical emergency which requires immediate administration of thiamine (vitamin B1). As this symptomatology subsides, the patient begins to show an amnesic picture. It’s Korsakoff’s psychosis.

      Korsakoff syndrome

      The second phase of this syndrome is called Korsakoff’s psychosis. It is characterized by the inability to remember past events in time (Temporary deficiencies), conspiracy and anterograde amnesia.

      Because this pair of syndromes almost always occurs together, we are talking about a single Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a two-stage disease where the most serious neurological symptoms of the first, once resolved, give way in the amnesic phase of the second. .

        Causes of alcoholic neuropathy

        Most neurological diseases associated with alcohol consumption they have to do with vitamin deficiency. Alcoholic beverages, in addition to inhibiting hunger thanks to their psychoactive characteristics, contain many calories.

        The brain, by receiving the signal that this high calorie contribution has passed, interprets that it should no longer eat and inhibits the hunger signal. like that, the alcoholic feels satisfied despite not eating anything nutritious.

        Specifically, as in Wernicke-Korsakoff, thiamine plays a crucial role in the development and resolution of the clinical picture.

        1. Thiamine deficiency

        It is common to find a nutritional deficiency of this vitamin in patients who have been chronically abusing alcohol, in patients who vomit very frequently, or in patients who have had bariatric surgery.

        Alcoholic neuropathy caused by thiamine deficiency it begins after depriving the body of this vitamin for a long time. It starts with a slight loss of feeling, subtle burning sensations in the toes, and leg cramps. Later, the sensitivity of the limbs will start to be lost.

        Whether it is pure alcoholic neuropathy or accompanied by Wernicke-Korsakoff, this deficit will be resolved with the intramuscular or intravenous administration of vitamin B1.

        2. Pyroxidine deficiency

        Even more rarely, neuropathy can be partially caused by the lack of vitamin B6. Its excess and absence can cause neurological damageBut in alcohol abuse, it is only his deficit. Like thiamine, it can be detected by analysis.

        3. Pelagra

        Pellagra is a deficiency of niacin (vitamin B3) caused by malnutrition or alcoholism. Neurological manifestations are variable: they affect the central nervous system as well as the peripheral nerves.


        Alcoholic neuropathy is a serious neurological disease that must be treated immediately. Fortunately, its urgent handling usually leads to partial recovery, Without serious long-term sequelae. Depending on the severity of the disease, the person who has suffered from the disease will take more or less time to recover.

        Today, it is possible to make an accurate diagnosis of alcoholic neuropathy using tests to detect vitamin deficiencies and nerve conduction electrodiagnostic tests and electromyograms. In this way, the treatment can be administered quickly and efficiently for complete recovery.


        Medical intervention for alcoholic neuropathy always involves withdrawal from the consumption of the substance that produced it. Vitamin B supplements, especially vitamin B12 and thiamine, are also used to aid recovery. As a support, it is important to ensure that the patient’s diet is sufficiently nutritious.

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