Alcoholism Effects: It Is More Than Just Liver Disease?

 

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In alcoholism, the increased intake of alcohol can damage the nerves and cause disruptive functions. The amount of alcohol that enters the body can turn into alcoholic neuropathy, a severe nerve damage.  

Neuropathy is the medical term used to describe nerve damages. Individuals diagnosed with neuropathy have some level of nerve malfunctions. Generally, the neurons help the body create actions, both conscious and unconscious. If you read our previous blog, Is Binge Drinking A Sign Of Early Alcoholism? Then you already know of the dangerous road that overusing alcohol can lead you down.

The Nervous System

To fully understand the way by which alcohol can affect the nervous system, you need to know the functions of the system first.

  1. The CNS or Central Nervous System is composed of the brain and the spinal cord. The brain controls body’s function including actions, emotions, thoughts, and communication. The spinal cord, on the other hand, functions to send messages from and to the brain as well as to the peripheral system.
  2. The Autonomic Nervous System consists of the parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions. The entire nervous system works without any conscious actions or efforts. Both divisions in the ANS controls body processes, including blood pressure and respiration.
  3. The PNS or Peripheral Nervous System is a collective term for the 43 pairs of sensory and motor nerves, which control the senses and movements of the body. Motor coordination, by far, is one of the most vital tasks of the PNS.

Motor and Sensory Nerves are parts of the PNS. The motor nerves, first and foremost, control the muscles. Under the motor nerves are somatic motor nerves that affect the actions of the skeletal muscles;  general visceral motor nerves that function to take control of the smooth muscles like the heart; and the special visceral motor nerves for the face and neck. The sensory nerves, meanwhile, respond to specific situations. These nerves send warning signs from organs to the brain and spinal cord.

The Dangers of Increased Alcohol Intake

Drinking alcoholic beverages, in large amounts consistently also considered binge drinking, will have a detrimental effect on the human body. The effects can include damages to the nervous system functions, cardiac functions, immune system functions, and most especially the liver. If you are struggling for ways in which you can stay sober, or thinking for other activities to do to pass the time, check out our post, “How To Stay Sober During Weekends“.

  • Approximately 55 percent of alcoholics develop liver cirrhosis, while some 35 percent acquire hepatitis. These alcohol dependents also have a high risk of tuberculosis and pneumonia due to decreasing immune system functions.
  • Drinking alcohol excessively may likewise result in high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. Certain heart diseases can develop also such as heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, and cardiomyopathy.
  • Alcoholics often suffer sudden cardiac death. Mothers who continually drinks, while being pregnant could deliver a child with fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • There is also a high risk of developing cancers of the liver, mouth, throat, esophagus, and breast in women.

What Is Alcoholic Neuropathy?

With excessive and long use of alcoholic beverages, alcoholic neuropathy is more likely to develop.

  • Research and clinical studies have proven that 25 to 66 percent of individuals diagnosed with chronic alcoholism develop this disease and that it often affects alcoholics aged 40 to 60.
  • Signs of nerve damages include painful abnormal sensations, mostly in the lower part of the body. The agonizing feelings are usually not relieved by medication or other treatment methods.
  • Individuals with family history of alcoholism, malnutrition, thiamine deficiency, and alcohol toxicity are believed to be at greater risk of developing alcoholic neuropathy.

Thiamine deficiency is one of the risk factors of developing alcoholic neuropathy.

Thiamine is an important metabolic vitamin that functions to keep peripheral nervous system healthy. Neuropathy develops when ethanol found in alcohol decreases thiamine absorption by the intestines. Ethanol minimizes hepatic storage of thiamine in the liver, which then destroys the conversion of thiamine for its intended function. With this, alcoholics develop both thiamine deficiency and increase the risk of alcoholic neuropathy.

Symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy

The symptoms may vary from one alcoholic to another. They usually develop slow for several months, while some have rapid, progressive onset. These symptoms may include abnormalities in the sensory, motor, and autonomic functions.

Gait problems are also noticeable with those in the severe stage. The major symptom that individuals complain is pain, but others may have burning sensations. Upper and lower extremities could also develop awkward sensations due to sensory nerve malfunction. Here are more signs and symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy:

Motor

    • Muscle spasms and cramps
    • Muscle weakness and atrophy
    • Loss of muscle functioning
    • Movement disorders

Sensory

    • Numbness
    • Tingling
    • Burning
    • Pins and needles sensations

Autonomic

    • Urinary incontinence
    • Incomplete bladder emptying
    • Impotence in men
    • Abnormal intolerance to heat
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Nausea or vomiting

Treatment Options and Prognosis

There are cases when permanent nerve damages are incurred by alcohol dependents. While this could sound severed, there are a lot of treatments to minimize the effects.

  • Avoiding alcohol is the best and cheapest way to stop pain and lessen further damages to the nervous system.
  • Diet should be nutritious and balanced. B-complex vitamins should be taken every day and rehabilitation is also necessary to achieve complete sobriety.

To treat pain and discomfort associated with alcoholic neuropathy, amitriptyline or gabapentin are often prescribed although there are over-the-counter medications that can also relieve pain, including acetaminophen or aspirin.

Severe, long-term pain and permanent physical disabilities may be the end-result of alcoholic neuropathy. Older adults diagnosed with this disease develop poor posture and gait, which can make elderly people prone to falls because of loss of balance.

For alcoholics, stopping excessive alcoholic consumption will prevent the occurrence of the painful and debilitating alcoholic neuropathy. If you want to stop alcoholism but don’t know how to start, you can always ask for professional help. It is never too late.

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