Alcohol abuse leads to nerve damage too via vitamin deficiency

Significant alcohol consumption over a long period of time can cause a nerve disease called alcoholic polyneuropathy, to develop. The majority of these polyneuropathies are due to the directly damaging, toxic (i.e., poisonous) effects of alcohol on the nerve cells themselves, but vitamin deficiencies also play a role. “Alcohol abuse is often accompanied by a poor and unhealthy diet that does not contain enough vitamins.

On the other hand, alcohol damages the mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract, so that the body can only absorb vitamins to a limited extent. Since high alcohol consumption also requires a greater amount of B vitamins than usual, a vitamin B deficiency can develop, which can result in damage to the nerve cells,” reports Prof. Dr. Max J. Hilz, senior consultant at the Neurological Clinic of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and member of the Berlin-based German Society of Neurology (DGN). “Treatment options then include abstinence from alcohol, as well as administration of certain more or less high doses of vitamins to help the nerve cells rebuild.”

Alcoholic polyneuropathy can present in a variety of forms, depending on the extent of damage, the regions affected and the type of nerve fibers. “Alcoholic polyneuropathy affects the peripheral nervous system, the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. As a result, sensitivity disorders, i.e., disturbances in the sensation of, for example, touch, temperature and pain stimuli or the sense of position, as well as calf cramps or increased pressure sensitivity of nerves can occur. Particularly in the extremities – such as fingers and toes – permanent pain can occur,” explains Prof. Hilz.

“At the onset of the disease, there is often tingling, furiness and numbness, as well as changes in sweating behavior. In advanced disease, chronic pain and gait disturbances may occur as a result of motor deficits.” For diagnosis, medical history and a comprehensive physical examination are important to rule out conditions that have similar symptoms.

“Strict abstinence from alcohol, which can be achieved with medically supervised withdrawal if necessary, is necessary to prevent progression of the disease. Another therapeutic option is drug therapy for pain – with antidepressants being used here, among other things, to favorably influence pain sensitivity,” adds the expert. In severe cases of the disease, where purely physical treatment is hardly sufficient, psychotherapeutic methods can be helpful as a supplement.


Press release of the German Society of Neurology (DGN) (german)

Found at Alkohol adé (german)

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