Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on March 28, 2022
6 min read

Alcoholic Neuropathy

What is Alcoholic Neuropathy?

Alcohol can have toxic effects on nerve tissues. 

Those who drink excessively may begin to experience pain and tingling in their limbs. This is known as alcoholic peripheral neuropathy.

People with alcoholic neuropathy have peripheral nerves damaged by excessive alcohol consumption. 

The peripheral nerves send signals between the:1

  • Body
  • Spinal cord
  • Brain 

The following nutrients are all required for proper nerve function:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin E

Excessive alcohol consumption can change the levels of these nutrients. This alters the spread of alcoholic neuropathy. 

Abstaining from alcohol can help restore these nutrients and improve the health of the central nervous system. However, some alcohol-induced nerve damage is permanent. 

Various other medical conditions are often confused with alcoholic neuropathy, including:

  • Diabetic neuropathy 
  • Peripheral vascular disease 
  • Spine disease 
  • Muscle disease 
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome 
  • Motor neuron disease, such as ALS1 (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 1) 

Online Therapy Can Help

Over 3 million people use BetterHelp. Their services are:

  • Professional and effective
  • Affordable and convenient
  • Personalized and discreet
  • Easy to start
Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

online consultation

How Common is Alcoholic Neuropathy?

Among patients with chronic alcoholism, alcoholic neuropathy is the most common harmful condition resulting from the disorder. 

It is estimated that, in the United States, 25 to 66 percent of chronic alcohol users experience neuropathy. The majority of these alcohol users are middle-class, working men. Continuous drinkers are typically more affected than episodic drinkers.

However, the incidence in the general population is unknown.

How Does Alcoholic Neuropathy Damage Nerves?

Alcohol misuse can lead to malnutrition and nerve damage. Both contribute to alcoholic neuropathy. 

Drinking too much alcohol can affect the processing, transportation, and absorption of essential nutrients. 

Some people with alcohol addiction also have inadequate food intake. This can lead to poor food choices and nutritional deficiencies.

Deficiencies in essential nutrients can harm overall health and prevent nerves from functioning correctly.

What are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Neuropathy?

Alcoholic neuropathy can alter both movement and sensation. Symptoms of the condition range from slight discomfort to chronic pain and significant disability. 

While alcoholic neuropathy is not life-threatening, it can decrease the quality of your life.

Various areas of the body can be affected by alcoholic neuropathy.

Arms and legs:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling and burning
  • Prickly, uncomfortable sensations
  • Loss of muscle functioning
  • Muscle spasms and cramps
  • Muscle weakness and atrophy
  • Movement disorders

Urinary and bowel:

  • Incontinence
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Issues with leaking urine
  • Feeling that the bladder has not emptied fully


  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Impotence
  • Impaired speech
  • Problems swallowing
  • Heat intolerance, especially following exercise
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Speak with your doctor if you have alcoholic neuropathy symptoms so they can provide medical advice. Early diagnosis and treatment increase the chances of a successful recovery. 

What Are the Effects of Alcoholic Neuropathy?

The effects of alcoholic neuropathy fall into four primary categories:

  • Decreased sensation
  • Pain and hypersensitivity
  • Muscle weakness
  • Automatic

Decreased Sensation

Alcoholic neuropathy damages sensory nerves. This results in a decreased sensation of the hands and feet.

A reduced ability to feel pain can lead to more injuries. Someone with decreased sensation in their hands and feet are likely to have more frequent bumps and scrapes. In some cases, this can be serious.

Infections and bleeding can also be a problem. 

Due to the absence of normal pain and discomfort, sores and wounds may be left unprotected. This can result in further injury. Eventually, wounds may become infected or bleed.

A decreased sensation in the body can additionally lead to diminished sensory skills. 

If you are unable to balance and coordinate motor skills properly, you may have trouble with everyday activities such as:

  • Walking
  • Typing
  • Writing

Advanced alcoholic neuropathy can make someone feel off-balance. This is especially when the eyes are closed. This can lead to dangerous falls.

Pain and hypersensitivity

Another significant effect of alcoholic neuropathy is painful sensations. 

Nerve damage can result in hypersensitivity to touch and resting pain. Light touch can feel exaggerated and painful, especially in the fingers and toes.

Lingering pain in the hands or feet is a common effect of alcoholic neuropathy. 

The pain may resemble:

  • Burning
  • Throbbing
  • Sharp pins and needles

As alcoholic neuropathy progresses, the pain can vary in intensity. It may reduce for months at a time before worsening again.

Muscle weakness

Severe alcoholic neuropathy can affect motor weakness due to nerve damage. Our muscles require a message from nearby nerves to function. When this message is interrupted because of damaged nerves, the muscles cannot work as they usually would.

Autonomic Neuropathy

Autonomic nerves control how the organs of the body work in the autonomic nervous system, including the:

  • Bladder
  • Intestines
  • Stomach

Alcoholic neuropathy can weaken the autonomic nerves. This causes impairment of bowel and bladder function as well as sexual dysfunction.

What Causes Alcoholic Neuropathy?

The damage from alcohol-related neuropathy may be the direct result of alcohol addiction. Nutritional deficiencies can also cause nerve damage.

Generally, it takes years for alcoholic neuropathy to develop. A long-standing history of excessive alcohol consumption is typical. 

Some heavy alcohol drinkers experience a quicker onset and progression of nerve damage than others. It is not clear why some people are more prone to alcoholic neuropathy than others.

Alcohol consumption decreases the absorption of nutrients like protein and vitamin B12. This results in significant vitamin deficiencies that affect many body areas, including the nerves.

Excessive drinking also alters the function of the:

These altered functions prevent the body from properly detoxifying waste material. This builds up and harms many areas of the body, including the nerves.

Nerve damage usually affects the axons. These are the projections that transfer electrical signals from one nerve to another and the myelin. Myelin is the fatty coating that protects the nerves.

Nerves cannot regenerate if they are severely damaged. The nerve damage of alcoholic neuropathy may be permanent if it takes place for an extended period.

Man meditating at home

Thinking about Getting Help?

Addiction specialists are available 24/7 to answer questions about costs, insurance, and payment options.
Learn More

How is Alcoholic Neuropathy Diagnosed?

Your doctor will need to examine you to diagnose alcoholic neuropathy. 

Patients must share their medical history to receive an accurate diagnosis. This includes any experience of alcohol addiction.

Your doctor must rule out any other potential causes for your symptoms.

Lab tests that may identify other potential causes of alcoholic neuropathy include:

  • Nerve biopsy
  • Nerve conduction tests
  • Upper GI and small bowel series
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
  • Neurological examination
  • Electromyography
  • Kidney, thyroid, and liver function tests
  • Complete blood count (CBC)

Blood tests can also assess for a nutritional deficiency that may link to both nerve health and alcohol consumption.

Insurance Can Help Pay for Addiction Treatment

Call now to speak with a specialist about your insurance benefits.

How is Alcoholic Neuropathy Treated?

There are several treatment options for alcoholic neuropathy. But first, patients diagnosed with alcoholic neuropathy must stop drinking

Treatment will initially focus on addressing the issues related to alcohol addiction. For some chronic alcoholics, this may require inpatient treatment. For others, it may be to stop drinking with outpatient treatment or social support groups.

Once excessive drinking has been addressed, your doctor can focus on the neuropathy. 

Nerve damage can also make it challenging to carry out the functions of daily life. Alcoholic neuropathy can even make injuries more likely. Everyone’s needs are different. 

A treatment plan for alcoholic neuropathy may involve various types of care.

These treatments may include:3

  • Vitamin supplements to improve nerve health
  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Medication for people with issues urinating 
  • Physical therapy to treat muscle atrophy
  • Orthopedic appliances
  • Safety gear and stabilizing footwear to prevent injuries 
  • Special stockings for your legs to stop any dizziness

Can Alcoholic Neuropathy Be Cured? 

Nerve damage from alcoholic neuropathy is usually permanent. If you do not stop drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, your symptoms are likely to worsen. 

This could lead to:

  • Disability
  • Damage to your arms and legs
  • Chronic pain 

However, if diagnosed early enough, you can reduce the damage from alcoholic neuropathy. Abstaining from alcohol and improving your diet can sometimes result in a moderate to full recovery.

Begin your journey towards lasting recovery
Call us (866) 928-4133
Updated on March 28, 2022
6 sources cited
Updated on March 28, 2022
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, March 2020
  2. Sadowski A, Houck RC. Alcoholic Neuropathy. [Updated 2020 Sep 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-
  3. Chopra, Kanwaljit, and Vinod Tiwari. “Alcoholic neuropathy: possible mechanisms and future treatment possibilities.” British journal of clinical pharmacology vol. 73,3 : 348-62. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2011.04111.x
  4. Julian, T., Glascow, N., Syeed, R. et al. Alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Neurol 266, 2907–2919
  5. Julian, Thomas & Glascow, Nicholas & Syeed, Rubiya & Zis, Panagiotis. . Alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Neurology. 266
  6. Hammi C, Yeung B. Neuropathy. [Updated 2021 Aug 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-

Find your treatment that works for you!

All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.

This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:Verify here.

© 2023 by Treatment Pathway LLC. All rights reserved.
Back to top icon
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram