Neurological Disorders Caused by Alcoholism by Rehab Recovery Centers

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “85.6 percent of people ages 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime.” Additionally, the NIAAA reports that nearly 15 million people suffer from an alcohol use disorder.[1]

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that can cause an array of health issues, from high blood pressure and heart disease to an array of cancers. However, alcoholism is also linked to the development of several neurological disorders.

What is an Alcohol-Related Neurologic Disease?

Alcohol-related neurological diseases are neurological conditions that develop due to drinking large amounts of alcohol over some time. These conditions can develop because of the way that alcohol affects an individual’s brain.

Alcohol consumption affects the brain by:

  • Slowing down the rate of brain cell communication
  • Releasing dopamine and serotonin, causing a euphoric effect
  • Increased effects of GABA, which leads to slowed brain responses
  • Slowed emotional responses leading to a lack of inhibition
  • Effects to the cerebellum that cause loss of coordination, sleepiness, or unconsciousness
  • Blocking of vasopressin, causing increased urination and dehydration

As if the neurological effects of heavy alcohol consumption are not enough, it also affects levels of certain vitamins in the body that are responsible for proper nervous system functioning. The vitamins thiamin, folate, B-12, and B6 are all affected by heavy alcohol consumption, leading to amplified problems in the nervous system.

What Types of Neurological Disorders are Caused by Alcoholism?

The effects of alcoholism on the nervous system can lead to the development of alcohol-related neurological disorders. According to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, “Neurological disorders are medically defined as disorders that affect the brain as well as the nerves found throughout the human body and the spinal cord.”[2]

Different types of neurological disorders caused by alcoholism include:

Alcoholic Neuropathy

Alcoholic neuropathy is a condition caused by damage to the nerves resulting from excessive drinking.

According to the National Library of Medicine, alcoholic neuropathy includes, “both a direct poisoning of the nerve by the alcohol and the effect of poor nutrition associated with alcoholism. Up to half of all long-term heavy alcohol users develop this condition. In severe cases, nerves that regulate internal body functions (autonomic nerves) may be involved.”[3]

The symptoms of this irreversible condition include:

  • Lack of sensation in hands and feet
  • Numbness and tingling sensations
  • Decreased reflexes of arms and legs
  • Muscle cramps, spasms, and weakness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Movement disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Speech impairment

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)

Wernicke-korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a combination of two conditions: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. This combination syndrome is caused by chronic alcoholism that leads to brain damage and a deficiency in thiamine. WKS is often called “wet brain.”

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a condition that causes symptoms such as:

  • Confusion
  • Lack of coordination in the eyes
  • Loss of muscle coordination (ataxia)
  • Decreased levels of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Memory issues
  • Abnormal gait

Korsakoff’s psychosis is caused by Wernicke’s encephalopathy and causes the following symptoms:

  • Severe memory loss
  • Forgetfulness
  • Coordination problems
  • Issues walking
  • Behavioral changes

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) occurs when an individual with alcoholism abruptly stops consuming alcohol. This causes them to experience symptoms of withdrawal that can range from mild, moderate, and severe in terms of seriousness.

The most common symptoms of AWS include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Shaking and tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headache
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Alcoholic Myopathy

Alcoholic myopathy is a neurological condition that affects the muscles. This condition is most common among binge drinkers and severe alcoholics. Alcoholic myopathy causes loss of function and strength in an individual’s skeletal muscles.

There are two types of alcoholic myopathy: acute alcoholic myopathy and chronic alcoholic myopathy.

Acute alcoholic myopathy occurs after binge drinking 4 to 5 drinks, leading to a blood alcohol content of 0.08%. This can lead to another condition known as rhabdomyolysis, which causes muscle tissue to break down and enter the bloodstream.

Chronic alcoholic myopathy occurs after a lifetime of heavy alcohol consumption. It occurs due to decreased levels of vitamin B, iron, zinc, potassium, and Vitamin D. This causes the individual’s body to have a hard time converting protein into muscle and repairing muscle.

Alcoholic Cerebellar Degeneration (ACD)

Another alcohol-related neurological disorder is referred to as alcoholic cerebellar degeneration. This disorder develops as alcohol causes cells in the cerebellum to deteriorate.

According to research, “Alcoholic cerebellar degeneration (ACD) is a disorder resulting from severe chronic alcoholism and malnutrition and is characterized by cognitive disturbances, ataxia of gait, and truncal instability, with generally preserved coordination of the upper extremities.”[4]

The common symptoms of ACD include:

  • Slurred and irregular speech
  • Poor control of posture
  • Unsteady movements (ataxia)
  • Uncontrollable eye movements (gaze nystagmus)
  • Acute cerebellar lesions

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a neurological condition that babies develop when their mother consumes alcohol throughout the pregnancy. This is a serious condition that often causes physical and mental developmental delays in children.

The physical symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome include:

  • Small head circumference and brain size
  • Distinctive facial features like small eyes or a thin upper lip
  • Deformities of joints, fingers, and limbs
  • Slow physical growth after birth
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Heart, bones, and kidney defects

The brain and CNS symptoms of FAS include:

  • Poor coordination or balance
  • Intellectual disabilities, learning disorders, and delayed development
  • Poor memory abilities
  • Issues with attention and information processing
  • Issues with problem-solving and reasoning
  • Difficulty identifying consequences
  • Hyperactivity
  • Rapidly changing moods

The behavioral symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome include:

  • Difficulty in school
  • Problems getting along with others
  • Poor social abilities
  • Difficulty adapting to change or switching from one task to another
  • Behavior issues and poor impulse control
  • Difficulty understanding the concept of time
  • Issues staying on task or focused
  • Problems planning or working towards a goal

Finding Help for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

The consequences of long-term alcoholism can range from social isolation, legal troubles, organ damage, and even the development of irreversible neurological conditions, but they can be prevented by abstaining from alcohol and getting medical treatment. Because of this, going to an alcoholism treatment center is of the utmost importance.

Thankfully, Rehab Recovery Centers can help you find the right treatment program for your specific needs. Contact us today to get started.



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