Alcohol-Related Neurologic Disease

Introduction to alcohol-related neurologic disease

Alcohol-related neurologic disease is an outcome of too much consumption of alcohol.  This outcome can come in different forms. That is what alcohol-related neurologic disease is.

Alcohol is a beverage that anyone can drink any time even in social gatherings. Although alcohol in itself is not poisonous to the body, it can become poisonous when abused. By becoming a poison to the body, the nervous and muscular system will not be left out.

Alcohol will not only intoxicate you, it can bring forth ‘fruits’ that lack the ability to ‘enrich’ your body.

Such ‘fruits’ are:

  • dehydration
  • memory loss
  • death
  • blackouts
  • incoordination
  • seizures
  • headaches

When alcohol use has been for a very long time, the liver, nervous system, and other body can be damaged without mercy.

The following nutrients will also be drastically reduced in the body because you have abused alcohol:

  • thiamine (vitamin B-1)
  • vitamins B-6 and B-12
  • Folate (vitamin B-9)

Your nerves cannot function properly without these vitamins.

Not feeding well will also worsen your situation as an alcohol addict.

Alcohol-related neurologic diseases include:

  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (can also be referred to as Wernicke’s encephalopathy or Korsakoff psychosis)
  • alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • alcoholic neuropathy
  • alcoholic myopathy
  • alcoholic cerebellar degeneration
  • fetal alcohol syndrome
  • cognitive deficits i.e. dementia

Women are more susceptible to many of the negative effects of alcohol abuse, especially nerve damage, than men would.

Moderate drinking can be safe some people. What if you completely stop taking alcohol as a way of preventing yourself from having an alcohol-related neurologic disease?

Alcohol-related neurologic disease
Photo Credit: ipflorist.com

Types of alcohol-related neurologic disease

Alcohol abuse can produce effects on the brain, spinal cord and, muscles. These effects could either be direct or indirect.

The following are neurologic diseases that alcohol misuse can cause:

Wernicke-Korsakoff disease (WKS)

Wernicke-Korsakoff disease is a state of brain damage because alcohol misuse induced a deficiency in vitamin B1 (thiamine). Two WKS types exist:

Wernicke’s encephalopathy:  It is short-lived but very severe. Its typical symptoms are

  • very poor muscle coordination
  • mental confusion
  • paralysis of specific nerves involved in eye movements

Korsakoff psychosis:  It is not short-lived. It lasts longer than necessary. It is ‘given birth’ to by Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Korsakoff’s psychosis will set in when the symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff disease check out. Its characteristic features are:

  • amnesia and other related problems with learning and memory
  • poor coordination
  • forgetfulness
  • difficulty walking

Alcoholic neuropathy

Alcohol neuropathy will develop when the nerves of the peripheral nervous system have become seriously damaged by alcohol.  Sometimes, the damage can be permanent. Alcohol neuropathy will even be worse when deficiencies in vitamins B-6, B-12, and E exist in your body. Thiamine, niacin and folate shortage in the body can also promote the condition the more. Your nerves cannot work well when you lack these vitamins.

Likely symptoms include:

  • sexual dysfunction
  • numbness and prickly sensations in your legs and arms
  • muscle weakness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • muscle spasms
  • muscle cramps
  • movement disorders
  • urinary problems i.e. incontinence
  • Bowel problems i.e. constipation, diarrhea etc.
  • impaired speech
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is what happens when you that have been an alcohol addict suddenly stop drinking alcohol. It can develop as early as five hours after your last alcoholic beverage consumption. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can take weeks before they resolve.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome include:

  • nightmares
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • sweating
  • mood swings
  • shakiness
  • insomnia
  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting

A more severe form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome is delirium tremens. When you have delirium tremens, you will have:

  • hallucinations
  • seizures
  • sudden mood changes
  • fever
  • confusion
  • hyperthermia

These symptoms can go together with alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Alcoholic cerebellar degeneration

Alcohol use for a very long period of time can make your nerves get bad structurally and eventually ‘pack up’. The part affected is the cerebellum, the brain part responsible for the control of balance and coordination. Symptoms include:

  • slurred speech
  • unsteady walk
  • tremor in the trunk of the body
  • jerky arms and legs
  • rapid eyes movements – nystagmus

Alcoholic myopathy

Your muscle fibers can also be damaged by alcohol misuse. Alcohol myopathy simply means your muscles have become weakened from alcohol use over a long period of time.

It can either be short-lived (acute) or long-lived (chronic). Symptoms include:

  • spasms
  • muscle weakness
  • atrophy (loss in muscle mass that can also be called muscle wasting)
  • muscle cramps
  • stiffness

Fetal alcohol syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome is experienced by pregnant women who drink heavily. Because there is a forming baby in the womb, anything the mother takes in will also be ‘taken in’ by the baby. So when a pregnant woman drinks, the baby also drinks! Hence, the baby can likely have brain damage that can ultimately result in developmental, behavioral and cognitive challenges.

So if you are a pregnant woman, need I advise you more?

What causes alcohol-related neurologic disease?

Alcohol-related neurologic disease is caused by nothing more than excessive alcohol use. Alcohol, upon consumption, goes through your bloodstream, stomach, small intestine and then finally, the liver. The liver is where it will be digested, in essence, broken down. The liver has a limit to which it can break down alcohol per time. It can’t take more than it can take.

Any alcohol the liver cannot take at that point in time will remain in the blood. Since the blood is not static, it will carry this excess alcohol to other organs of the body. But the organs that will be most affected are the brain, spinal cord and the nerves that supply information to the muscles and organs.

How alcohol affects your brain and nervous system depends on:

  • your frequency of drinking
  • how long you have been drinking
  • gender
  • your age at which you began drinking
  • genetic factors
  • history of alcohol abuse in your family
  • your consumption quantity
  • diet
  • your general health

How is alcohol-related neurologic disease diagnosed?

Early diagnosis will help you in so many ways especially in the prevention of much damage to your brain.  You will be asked questions that will allow the doctor to take your medical history.

Be honest when you are filling the questionnaire you will be given. That will go a long way in helping the doctor help you appropriately.

Noticing the signs associated with alcohol abuse is a major way of diagnosing alcohol-related neurological disease.

These include:

  • inattention to major tasks at home, work, or school
  • drink-driving
  • arrests for driving in your drunken state
  • fighting induced by drunkenness
  • indiscipline towards drinking
  • continued alcohol abuse in spite of the associated negative consequences

Certain tests can be done on you by your doctor to rule out neurological symptoms that are not in any way related to your condition.

How is alcohol-related neurologic disease treated?

Avoiding alcohol is the best way to avoid these conditions and relieve symptoms. The earlier you stop alcohol intake, the more likely you are to recover faster. You might have need of inpatient rehab. This will really be needful if you are exhibiting alcoholism. Your family members and friend can act as a huge support for you in this regard. Other reliable support sources are:

  • national agencies
  • support groups i.e. local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • helplines

You can be helped by a doctor once you stop taking alcohol intake. Specific symptoms will be attended to because your needs will be quite different from another’s. So a treatment mode and program will be tailored to meet your recovery needs.

 Treatment will possibly include:

  • supplements
  • vitamins
  • prescription medication
  • physical therapy
  • painkillers

Symptoms of WKS can be reversed by intravenous thiamine.

Delirium tremens requires that you are admitted in the hospital for proper medical care.

Sedation can help you stop your alcohol withdrawal symptoms if consistently done for a week.

Brain-imaging techniques will be used to check how your brain is responding to treatment.

What can you expect in the long-term?

Your condition can get worse if you continue to drink alcohol. Permanent damage to the nervous system and other parts of the body might occur. This may lead to:

  • chronic pain
  • disability
  • death

Stop consuming alcohol. Eat a healthy diet. Get diagnosed early.

You can stop your body from incurring unnecessary damage if you get help on time. Based on reports from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, your brain functions can be restored within a year or longer than that. It all depends on how determined you are to recover fully.

How can alcohol-related neurologic disease be prevented?

Early intervention can deliver you from alcohol-related neurologic disease. You can get helps from your doctor, family members or friends.

There are certain steps you can follow to prevent alcoholic-related neurologic disease:

  • find out how much alcohol is tagged too much
  • limit how much alcohol you take per day i.e. one drink or less if you are a woman and two or fewer men

It will be perfect if you stop drinking altogether.

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