Peripheral neuropathy is usually associated with diabetes, but this is far from the only cause. Many factors can contribute to nerve damage in the toes, feet, and lower legs, and one of the most common is alcohol abuse. Even if you don’t have diabetes, years of heavy drinking can severely interfere with healthy nerve functioning. In fact, an Oxford University study suggest that up to half of all chronic alcoholics will ultimately develop peripheral neuropathy to some degree during their lifetime.
As with neuropathy caused by other factors, alcoholic neuropathy produces the same characteristic set of symptoms. This can include (but is not limited to):
- Sensations such as numbness, tingling, prickling, or burning in the feet
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Weakness and loss of coordination
- Feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness, or nausea
- Loss of heat tolerance
- Urinary and bowel issues
How Heavy Drinking and Neuropathy Are Related
Like any other biological system, nerves need oxygen and nutrition in order to stay healthy and function efficiently. Deny them what they need, and they stop working the way they should. In some cases, this damage can be permanent.
Although generally safe for most people in moderate amounts, alcohol is toxic and alters brain chemistry and nerve function when consumed in excess or over long periods of time. Too much alcohol in the bloodstream can cause direct damage to peripheral nerves, impairing their ability transmit signals and communicate with the brain.
Alcohol can also alter the levels of vital nutrients in the body, including Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin E, thiamine, niacin, and others. Compounding the issues, many chronic alcoholics already struggle with eating a healthy diet rich in these sorts of nutrients, depriving their nervous system of needed nourishment.
Diagnosing and Treating the Problem
When you see Dr. Danciger about your tingling feet, please be honest about your history of alcohol use. Along with a full examination and any necessary tests, this will help us make the most accurate possible assessment of your situation and put forward an effective treatment plan.
The most important aspect of treatment for anyone with alcoholic neuropathy is to get their drinking under control. Without addressing the underlying cause, treatment is unlikely to be effective. We understand that it may be difficult, but you don’t have to do this alone—seek out a support group, rely on the strength of friends and family, avoid the places or situations that may tempt you to overindulge. If you need help finding a support group, we can point you in the right direction.
If you stop drinking, and there are no other prominent underlying causes (such as diabetes), then the progression of nerve damage should stop. At this point, the focus of treatment shifts fully to helping you relieve symptoms and regain as much strength, sensitivity, and function as possible.
Specific treatments vary depending on the type and severity of symptoms you experience. These may include dietary supplements or a new dietary plan; laser therapy, corticosteroid injections, or over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and inflammation; an exercise or physical therapy program to help you regain strength and coordination, and others.
If you start to notice the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, whether you suspect it to be alcohol-related or otherwise, please contact Dr. Harvey Danciger as soon as possible. Earlier diagnosis and treatment gives you the best possible chance to restore nerve health and manage symptoms successfully. Request an appointment online, or call us in Palm Desert, CA at 760-568-0108.