Continuing with the posts on the neurological manifestations of alcoholism, I shall cover the topic of alcoholic neuropathy here. Simply put alcohol is a neurotoxin especially when it is consumed in excess. People who consume large amounts of alcohol on a chronic (daily) basis frequently develop neuropathy. It does not depend upon the kind of alcohol consumed (top of the shelf Scotch whisky Vs a cheap rum) rather it depends upon the amount and frequency of use. Patients develop a predominantly sensory neuropathy and have complaints of pain, burning, tingling, pins and needle sensation in the feet and sometimes in the finger tips. Rarely if the neuropathy is severe patients may also develop peripheral weakness (motor symptoms).
Alcoholic neuropathy is also thought to be not entirely due to alcohol, rather it is a nutritional neuropathy and occurs due to lack of essential nutrients and vitamins in the marginal diets of alcoholics. It is uncertain whether the neuropathy would develop in an alcoholic who supplements his diet with essential nutrients and vitamins. Alcoholic neuropathy is more commonly seen in patients who have other neuropathic conditions like diabetes. In this subgroup of patients, alcohol acts as an additional neurotoxin and makes the neuropathy worse. The same principle applies to cancer patients been treated with neurotoxic chemotherapy medications or an HIV patient been treated with neurotoxic antiretroviral medications.
Thus the message is simple.
Drink alcohol in moderation applies to all of us.
People who have diabetes should avoid alcohol if possible or if that is not possible consume as little.
Patients been treated with neurotoxic medications should also avoid alcohol.
Supplement your diet with at least one to two tablets of a good multivitamin every day.
Alcoholic neuropathy is treated much the same as any other neuropathy (see my post on diabetic neuropathy http://braindiseases.info)
Nitin Sethi, MD