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Alcoholic Myopathy

What Is Myopathy?

Myopathy is a condition that results in loss of muscle strength or dysfunction of skeletal muscle, generally caused by abnormalities in function or metabolism of muscle cells. Myopathy can be caused by a number of conditions, including inherited or congenital diseases or disorders like muscular dystrophy and acquired conditions resulting from infection or ingestion of toxic agents.

What Is Alcoholic Myopathy?

Chronic alcohol use can effect both your mental and physical health. Alcoholic myopathy is considered to be a toxic myopathy resulting from the body’s response to long-term and/or heavy exposure to alcohol. It can either be acute, after the individual has binged on alcohol, or chronic, developing over time with regular, heavy alcohol consumption. This makes alcoholism a major risk factor for an individual to develop this debilitating and often painful condition.

How Does Alcoholism Contribute to Myopathy?

While alcoholic myopathy is still only partly understood, it appears that it could have a nutritional component. People who consume alcohol often experience malnutrition of various forms, as alcohol can hinder the body’s ability to absorb and use certain nutrients. Recent studies have explored the similarities between alcoholic myopathy and vitamin D deficiency, and concludes that there is a connection.

Alcoholism has been shown to result in vitamin D deficiency in the body. Sometimes, this occurs as a result of the liver disease that is common among those who struggle with alcohol use disorder; however, liver disease is not necessary for the person to have difficulty absorbing vitamin D. In either case, the lack of vitamin D results in an inability for the body to properly use other nutrients like phosphorus in maintaining proper muscular cell function and metabolism, resulting in the muscles being unable to function properly or even, in some cases, wasting away.

Symptoms of Alcoholic Myopathy

The most basic symptoms of alcoholic myopathy, as described by the New England Journal of Medicine, are muscular weakness and tenderness or pain. This can manifest in the person being unable to do something as simple as standing up or climbing a staircase. In addition, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Loss of muscle mass (atrophy)
  • Cramping
  • Stiffness
  • Twitches, tics, or muscle spasms
  • Darkened urine
  • Sensitivity to heat

A potential additional consequence and symptom of alcoholic myopathy is cardiomyopathy, or weakening of the heart muscle. This can lead to bigger complications later on, including heart disease.

When Does Alcoholic Myopathy Occur?

Approximately one-third of individuals who drink heavily on a regular basis will experience alcoholic myopathy, making it far more common than some people might think. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews indicates that about between 0.5 percent and 2 percent of individuals struggling with alcoholism experience acute alcoholic myopathy, while 200 individuals in 100,000 of the general population develop chronic alcoholic myopathy – more than any type of inherited myopathy.

Acute alcoholic myopathy can occur after consuming more than 4-5 alcoholic beverages in one sitting (within two hours). On the other hand, those who develop chronic myopathy generally do so slowly over the course of several weeks or even months of regular, heavy drinking, gradually losing muscle strength. In some cases, muscle twitching, pain, or atrophy will also occur with chronic alcoholic myopathy. Chronic myopathy can also result in occasional bouts of acute myopathy, with muscle pain and weakness and darkened urine occurring after the person binges on alcohol.

Long-Term Risks of Alcoholic Myopathy

As mentioned above, part of the risk of alcoholic myopathy is the development of cardiomyopathy, or weakness in the heart. Over time, cardiomyopathy thins the heart muscle, decreasing its ability to work properly. This, in turn, can lead to heart disease of various kinds, including:

  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Arrhythmia

Some research has also indicated a connection between liver damage and cardiomyopathy in people struggling with alcohol use disorders. A study from Hepatology showed that individuals with alcoholic cirrhosis who were still actively drinking were more likely to have some form of cardiomyopathy than those who had been alcoholic but were abstaining or those with cirrhosis that was not alcohol-related.

Can You Treat Alcoholic Myopathy?

Neurology Medlink explains that alcoholic myopathy is treatable and reversible, whether it is acute or chronic. With an acute episode following a binge, the symptoms usually resolve within a week or two. Chronic myopathy, where damage is more severe, can take much longer to resolve, requiring weeks or even months for the muscles to recover function. In the case of cardiomyopathy, damage is only reversible up to a point. If the individual has already developed heart disease, this damage is not reversible and must be treated for the rest of the person’s life.

Research suggests continued abstinence from alcohol along with nutritonal support and exercise, can assist the recovery process.

Abstaining from alcohol is a major challenge for individuals who are struggling with alcoholism. Triggers and cravings can overwhelm a person’s ability to consider the consequences and result in the person drinking again. Because alcoholism is a chronic mental health disorder, it requires treatment for the person to maintain abstinence and avoid drinking, thereby being able to also receive treatment for alcoholic myopathy.

It is possible to recover from alcohol use disorders like alcoholism through rehab at a reputable, research-based treatment facility or program. Experts in addiction treatment can help individuals struggling with alcoholism learn new ways of coping with triggers and cravings, making it more likely that they can avoid relapse to alcohol use. This is achieved through a variety of program elements that are customized to the individual’s needs, including:

With professional support and a commitment to sobriety,  you can emerge from a treatment program with new tools and skills to live a productive, healthier life.

We’re available 24/7 to answer questions and help you make decisions about starting recovery from alcoholic myopathy 888-685-5770.


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