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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Alcholism and leg problems

11/03/2008

Question:

Hello, a friend of mine is a big drinker. She as fine and then about 4 months ago started having trouble walking. Her legs are covered in veins and swell alot. she sais that they tingle and just will not hold her up. She is 65 nd on a walker. Can the legs be affected from alcholism?

Answer:

Yes, the legs can be affected in two major ways by alcoholism. The first is called alcoholic myopathy. This is leg weakness caused by a breakdown of muscle tissue by a variety of mechanisms, including a direct toxic effect of alcohol. There are two forms of alcoholic myopathy: acute and chronic. In the acute form, there is a sudden onset of muscle pain, swelling, and weakness. In the chronic form, there is a painless and gradual onset of weakness of the limb muscles closest to the trunk, including thighs, hips, shoulders, and upper arms. The weakness of the thighs and hips could cause difficulty with walking.

The second way that alcohol affects the legs is called alcoholic neuropathy. In this condition, injury to nerve fibers can cause tingling or burning in the feet, which can be so severe as to interfere with walking.

It is possible that your friend may have both myopathy (muscle problems) as well as neuropathy (nerve problems) as a result of very heavy drinking.

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Response by:

Christina M Delos Reyes, MD Christina M Delos Reyes, MD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University