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While the short term effects of small amounts of alcohol can be pleasant, long-term chronic alcohol abuse has a number of detrimental effects on the human body, including alcoholic neuropathy, or damage to the nerves in the nervous system. While scientists continue to debate the exact causes of alcoholic neuropathy, the symptoms and progression of the disease are not in question.
Alcoholic Neuropathy Symptoms
It has been estimated that up to one-half of alcoholics develop some form of neuropathy. Some speculate that the condition develops from a long-term, direct poisoning of the nerves, while others contribute poor nutrition that frequently accompanies alcoholism.
According to the Canadian Alcoholic Neuropathy Association, symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy include:
- numbness in the arms and legs
- a "pins and needles" feeling
- muscle weakness
- cramps or aches
- difficulty with urination
Additional advanced symptoms include difficulty swallowing, speech impairments or muscle atrophy. Since alcoholism prohibits the body from storing some vitamins and minerals, diagnosis often takes place following blood tests to check for deficiencies in thiamine (B1), B6, B12, folic acid, niacin (B3), vitamin A and biotin.
Alcoholic Neuropathy and Treatment
Medication, including vitamin supplements, as well as physical rehabilitation is recommended in a course of treatment, as is addressing the underlying alcoholism. However, the damage is permanent and may lead to long-term disability.