Struggling with tingling in your hands, legs, or feet? Have you noticed pain in your extremities or a sensation that you’re wearing socks or gloves even when your skin is bare? You could have a nerve condition called neuropathy.
Alcohol abuse can trigger this disease. If you’re concerned your drinking is causing neuropathy, the new year is a great time to reclaim control of your health. At Interventional Pain and Regenerative Medicine Specialists in Arlington, Virginia, our providers specialize in diagnosing and treating this nerve condition.
Here’s a closer look at the link between alcohol abuse and neuropathy and the ways we can support your health.
Neuropathy is a broad term that describes different nerve disorders that result from nerve damage rather than a single disease. When people talk about neuropathy, they’re usually referring to peripheral neuropathy.
Your nervous system is made up of two main systems: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system consists of your brain and spinal cord.
The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that branch off of your spinal cord and go throughout your body. These peripheral nerves take information your senses bring in from the outside world and your body and bring it to your brain, where it’s interpreted.
Peripheral neuropathy describes a condition that results when these nerves are damaged or diseased. When these nerves are damaged, they don’t work the right way. This disrupts the signals to your brain and can cause troubling symptoms, including:
- Throbbing, burning, or sharp pain sensation
- Pain trying to carry out normal activities
- Numbness, tingling, or prickling feelings (especially in the hands, arms, feet, or legs)
- Feeling like your hands or feet are covered
- Being unusually sensitive to temperatures
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
- Urinary incontinence
If peripheral neuropathy progresses without treatment, it can cause issues with movement, muscle weakness, and lack of coordination. In extreme cases, it can lead to paralysis.
How alcohol triggers neuropathy
Alcoholic neuropathy is a type of peripheral neuropathy triggered by heavy alcohol use along with other factors. When you drink too much alcohol, the toxins it contains damage the sheath that protects your nerves.
In addition to the usual signs of peripheral neuropathy, alcoholic neuropathy can create additional symptoms. These generally resemble the way you feel when you’re drunk, such as:
- Feeling dizzy or “buzzed” even when you’re sober
- Feeling hungover even if you had little or no alcohol
- Having trouble with balance or coordination
- Being unsteady on your feet (e.g., can’t walk in a straight line even when sober)
And since alcoholism often goes hand in hand with other factors that contribute to neuropathy, such as poor diet and lack of exercise, the disease can develop quickly. Other factors that, when combined with alcohol abuse, increase your risk of alcoholic neuropathy include:
- Being a long-term alcoholic
- Alcohol abuse coupled with kidney or liver disease
- Alcohol abuse coupled with diabetes
- Having nutritional deficiencies (e.g., folate, vitamin B12)
The good news is that treatment for neuropathy and reducing your alcohol consumption can help slow or even reverse the disease and ease your symptoms at the same time.
Getting help for alcoholic neuropathy
At Interventional Pain and Regenerative Medicine Specialists, our providers use a holistic approach to help treat your neuropathy and ease your symptoms.
We begin with a thorough assessment since other issues could contribute to your alcoholic neuropathy, like nutritional deficiencies, liver disease, autoimmune diseases, and other health issues.
Once we have a clear picture of all factors contributing to your condition, your provider creates a personalized neuropathy treatment plan, which may include:
- Dietary changes and nutritional therapy
- Over-the-counter (OTC) oral and topical medications
- Prescription medications
- Ergonomics and splints
- Relaxation techniques
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- Peripheral nerve blocks
For patients with significant pain, your provider may recommend an implantable treatment. This may include spinal cord stimulation, intrathecal drug delivery system, dorsal root ganglion stimulation, or peripheral nerve stimulation therapies.
As your condition improves, your provider adjusts your treatment. Our goal is to prevent additional nerve damage and improve your quality of life.
Learn more about how alcohol can trigger neuropathy by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone with a provider at Interventional Pain and Regenerative Medicine Specialists in Northern Virginia.