Alcoholic neuropathy is one of the most common and least recognizable consequences of heavy alcohol use. With a long history of heavy alcohol use, there might be pain, tingling, weakness, or loss of balance. Learn how to know the signs and symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy and what the challenges are to recovery.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy can progress gradually, and there are usually subtle signs. A person who drinks heavily may not recognize symptoms are related to alcohol or to neuropathy. Signs and symptoms include some of the following:

  • Decreased sensation of the toes, feet, legs, fingers, or limbs
  • Weakness of feet or hands
  • Lack of coordination of hands or feet
  • Loss of balance/unsteadiness when walking
  • Trouble walking in a straight line
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Sexual dysfunction

Effects of Alcoholic Neuropathy

Alcoholic neuropathy is a nerve disease caused by too much alcohol consumption over a long period of time. Nerve damage can occur and falls into four categories: decreased sensation, muscle weakness, pain/hypersensitivity, and autonomic.

Diagnosis of Alcoholic Neuropathy

The diagnosis of alcoholic neuropathy involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and possibly blood or nerve tests. This includes:

  • Physical examination: if a doctor thinks a person might have alcoholic neuropathy, an exam should test reflexes, muscle strength, an exam of sensation, and testing of coordination.
  • Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies (NCV): examine nerve function in detail like decreased function in the hands and feet and slowing of nerve function
  • Nerve biopsy: pattern of nerve damage consistent with alcoholic neuropathy
  • Blood and urine tests or imaging studies of brain or spinal cord to rule out causes of symptoms

Treatment of Alcoholic Neuropathy

Several medical treatments can be used to manage the pain of alcoholic neuropathy:
  • Pain medication
  • Antidepressant medication
  • Anti-seizure medication: medications not formally indicated for treatment of alcoholic neuropathy
  • Vitamin supplements: nutritional deficiencies partly to blame for neuropathy, and supplementation with vitamin B12, folate, Vitamin E, and thiamine

No medications can help improve loss of sensation, strengthen muscle weakness, or aid in coordination and balance problems. Some people notice an improvement of symptoms within a few months.

Alcoholism is very challenging to treat along with myriad symptoms and mental health issues that may arise. A Step in the Right Direction provides quality care for clients seeking support for addiction recovery. We teach people how to live a sober life through programs, therapeutic support, and evidence-based therapies. Our recovery program is staffed by people who understand the power of addiction. For more information sober living programs for men and women as well as recovery programs, call (877) 377-3702.