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Can Alcohol Cause Numbness In Extremities?

October 14th, 2010 – Posted by James W. West M.D. F.A.C.S. in Doctors Office


Question:   I am a 57 year old retired executive.  I have been a social drinker all my life but since retiring, I have upped my drinking to about 8 or so ounces of vodka spread over the day.  About three months ago, I noticed a kind of numbness in my feet.  Is this from alcohol?  The doctor says it is.

Answer:   I believe your doctor is right.  Alcohol has a direct toxic effect on the nerve fibers in the legs and arms.  Alcohol can cause the degeneration of the myelin insulation of the nerve fiber as the nerve “dies back” from the feet and hands toward the upper leg and arm.  Also, painful feet and weakness of the thigh muscle are part of the progression of this alcoholic polyneuropathy.  Alcohol is the cause–no alcohol is the treatment.

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5 Responses to “Can alcohol cause numbness in extremities?”

  1. Nesh says:

    Hi, is there any other treatment apart from ‘no alcohol’? Any vitamins or medicines?

  2. Betty Ford Center says:

    The Betty Ford Center supports total abstinence from alcohol and all other addictive substances. However, people have tried a variety of ways to overcome addiction; you can search around on the internet for other options. You may also want to review these questions to gauge whether or not you have a problem with alcohol

  3. Dave, MD says:

    Actually, this “answer” is completely incorrect. Ethanol does not cause direct damage to peripheral nerves though it can impair communication in central nerves (NOT kill them though)( Rather, alcoholics tend to have very poor diets, and ethanol can impair absorption of nutrients, and can suppress appetite. The neuropathy you speak of is likely due to a B vitamin deficiency (B12 if I had to guess, though others can cause it too), possibly thyroid abnormalities or myriad other causes. Even though this post is old, I can’t stand to see misinformation promulgated.

    The idea that alcohol can directly kill nerves is true if you inject it on the nerve. We use this for surgical neuromas.

  4. Pinky says:

    MD comment appreciated as B. Ford comments like so much AA info. Is exaggerated and therefore ignored. But with numb feet, one doesn’t want misinformation!

  5. Jim says:

    At age 56, in excellent health: rapid onset of strong numbness in feet, gradually progressing to the thighs over a two year period. Tried everything: MRI’s, ENT balance exams, heart, thyroid meds, vitamins, neurologicaly exams. All test results negative; every action had no beneficial effect on the condition. But was also drinking about 3 or 4 beers per week (and one candy bar or ice cream bar per day.) Happened to not have beer (and sugar / sweets) available for a few days: condition cleared right up. So I have to say I’m a data point for Dr. West’s prognosis.

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