Alcohol and Your Health
Wine, cocktails, or an ice-cold beer. Whatever your preference, alcohol can be a staple for social events or simply a way to wind down for the evening. We all know too much alcohol makes us feel terrible (not to mention the hangovers), but that does not stop us from having a drink every once in a while.
There is, however, a drawback to having those drinks. Alcohol is a toxin; which is why it gets us drunk, and unfortunately that toxicity also has a negative impact on nerve health and worsens your neuropathy. Keeping track of how alcohol consumption affects your health and cutting down your consumption can help you manage your neuropathy symptoms.
Alcohol’s Effect on Your Body
Breaking down alcohol’s effect on your body is a good first step to understand how it affects your neuropathy.
In the short term, alcohol’s effects range anywhere from mild to severe symptoms. Mild neuropathic symptoms include tingling and warm feeling feet; as neuropathy progresses symptoms escalate to hot burning feet, pain, numbness, and muscle weakness.⁸ In the long term, regular misuse of alcohol can cause serious damage to your body and entire nervous system. Its effects include; memory loss which can compound brain fog common with neuropathy sufferers, kidney disease-a known cause of neuropathy, and, it can even cause certain types of cancer, the treatment of which may also cause neuropathy. Excessive alcohol consumption also causes nutrient deficiencies (like thiamine and B12) necessary to maintain good nerve health1.
While the immediate effect of having an alcoholic beverage can be enjoyable, long-term excessive alcohol use causes a lot of health problems including worsening your neuropathy symptoms.
Alcoholic Neuropathy: Standard Recommendations
The best way to prevent alcoholic neuropathy is to consume alcohol in moderation. The government of Canada recommends women should have no more than 2 standard drinks (where a standard drink has about 17 milliliters of pure alcohol) a day and no more than 10 drinks a week, and men should have no more than 3 standard drinks a day or 15 drinks in a week4. If you already have neuropathy, no matter the cause, you are going to be more susceptible to alcohol’s negative effects and should aim to consume less than the recommended amount. If you do have alcoholic neuropathy, cutting down (or eliminating) your alcohol consumption is a good way to mitigate your neuropathy symptoms.
Methods for Cutting Down Alcohol
Cutting down alcohol can be very challenging and can negatively impact your mental and physical health. Know that you do not have to do it alone. First, have a conversation with your doctor, as they will have resources and recommendations on how to begin to reduce your alcohol intake. Family and friends are great people to lean on, but there are professional (and free!) resources available to help you with your journey. Please see the government of Canada’s website for more information on those resources: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/get-help-problematic-substance-use.html
If you are looking for more specific tips on how to cut down alcohol, consider taking these small steps (with permission from your doctor, of course):
- Drink in Moderation: Try sticking to the government of Canada’s recommendation as closely as you can (although if your doctor recommends even less, always go with your doctor’s advice)4.
- Let Your Family and Friends Know: Keeping your family and friends in the loop about your decision to cut down or stop drinking is a great way to get some of the support you need.
- Stay Hydrated: Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it causes your body to remove fluids from your blood and flush it out through your urine5. Since staying hydrated is crucial for nerve communication, it is important to drink fluids to support hydration in addition to drinking alcohol. The National Health Service (NHS) recommends that you have one glass of water before you start drinking alcohol, and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or other non-alcoholic drinks7.
- Allen, S. (2019, March 8). The Aftereffects of Alcoholism: Alcoholic Neuropathy. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/alcoholic-neuropathy#_noHeaderPrefixedContent
- Chopra, K., & Tiwari, V. (2012). Alcoholic neuropathy: possible mechanisms and future treatment possibilities. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 73(3), 348–362. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2125.2011.04111.x
- Effects of Alcohol on the Body & Mind | Short & Long-Term. (n.d.). Alcohol.Org. Retrieved June 16, 2021, from https://www.alcohol.org/effects/
- Health Canada. (n.d.). Problematic alcohol use – Canada.ca. Retrieved June 19, 2021, from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/alcohol.html
- Jewell, T. (2019, May 23). Does Alcohol Dehydrate You? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/does-alcohol-dehydrate-you#:%7E:text=Alcohol%20is%20a%20diuretic.,you%20can%20become%20dehydrated%20quickly.
- Mellion, M., Gilchrist, J. M., & De La Monte, S. (2011). Alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy: Nutritional, toxic, or both? Muscle & Nerve, 43(3), 309–316. https://doi.org/10.1002/mus.21946
- NHS website. (2019, October 9). Tips on cutting down. Nhs.Uk. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-support/tips-on-cutting-down-alcohol/
- BMJ Journals. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. C McIntosh, J Chick Alcohol and the Nervous System. https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/75/suppl_3/iii16
Natalie was a Student Writer for the Calgary Neuropathy Association and has now completed her degree and is in the working world.