What is Alcoholic Myopathy?
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Last Updated - 6/17/2022View our editorial policy
Alcoholic myopathy is a muscle disease that occurs when alcohol is misused. Alcoholic myopathy can typically be reversed when drinking is stopped but can lead to complications and health problems while it is happening.
What Is Myopathy?
Myopathy is a term used to describe any disease affecting muscles. Myopathies typically describe diseases that affect voluntary muscles, which you use to make purposeful movements. These conditions can lead to weakness or complete inability to use certain muscles. Myopathy can occur as its own disease, caused by genetics, but it can also occur from another condition.
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What Is Alcoholic Myopathy?
Alcoholic myopathy is a muscle disease caused by alcohol use. It can be acute or chronic. Acute alcoholic myopathy tends to be sudden and more intense but does not last long. Chronic alcoholic myopathy is more gradual and subtle but longer-lasting than its acute form.
Acute Alcoholic Myopathy
Acute alcoholic myopathy is typically related to an episode of heavy drinking and can be a serious problem. In this type of alcoholic myopathy, the toxic effects of binge drinking lead to muscle damage and temporary muscle weakness. This normally resolves on its own within days to a week or two.
While acute alcoholic myopathy is a short-lasting condition, it can cause a serious medical problem called rhabdomyolysis. In this condition, protein from broken-down muscle enters the bloodstream, accumulating in the kidneys and leading to lasting kidney damage. Rhabdomyolysis can lead to kidney failure and may require hospital treatment.
Chronic Alcoholic Myopathy
Chronic alcoholic myopathy is not related to a single episode of drinking but is a cumulative effect of prolonged alcohol abuse. Chronic alcoholic myopathy develops slowly, often affecting the hips and shoulders. This condition does not typically lead to rhabdomyolysis; however, it can take several weeks or months to resolve fully once alcohol use is stopped.
How Does Alcohol Affect Muscles?
Alcohol can affect the muscles in many ways. When someone drinks alcohol, it reduces the creation of protein in muscles, reducing their ability to grow and repair themselves. Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients that are essential for muscle health. It can also disrupt normal muscle function by affecting the balance of fluids and electrolytes. The effects of alcohol on the body can lead to weakness, slower recovery from workouts and even muscle atrophy over time.
Alcohol can also result in behavioral changes that affect your muscle health. Spending large amounts of time intoxicated or recovering from drinking can interfere with workout routines, cause changes in your diet and negatively affect your lifestyle in ways that can all combine to negatively impact your muscle health.
Alcoholic Myopathy vs. Alcoholic Neuropathy
While learning about alcoholic myopathy, the topic of alcoholic neuropathy will often come up. Alcoholic neuropathy is damage caused by alcohol to the nerves, not the muscles. Because nerves control muscles, alcoholic neuropathy may lead to muscle weakness, just as alcoholic myopathy would. Alcoholic neuropathy, however, will also lead to other symptoms, such as decreased sensation, that alcoholic myopathy will not cause.
Symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy may include:
- Abnormal sensations
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Problems urinating
- Decreased ability to maintain an erection
- Nausea or vomiting
- Problems walking
Alcoholic Myopathy Symptoms
The symptoms of alcoholic myopathy generally include muscle weakness. This condition is usually painless and does not lead to cramps or spasms as alcoholic neuropathy would. However, the weakness caused by alcoholic myopathy can be severe, even causing temporarily paralyzed muscles at times.
If acute alcoholic myopathy leads to a high amount of muscle breakdown, symptoms of rhabdomyolysis may also develop. These symptoms include:
- Dark-colored urine
- Muscle cramps or aches
While these symptoms may develop, rhabdomyolysis can also occur without causing any symptoms.
Is Alcoholic Myopathy Reversible?
While alcoholic myopathy can be debilitating, it is almost always completely reversible. Recovery will begin when alcohol use is stopped. In acute cases, recovery may occur within days or weeks. Chronic alcoholic myopathy, however, may take up to a full year to be reversed completely.
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How to Get Rid of Alcohol Cramps
There is only one way to effectively reverse muscle cramps caused by alcoholic myopathy — to stop using alcohol. Chronic alcoholic myopathy will generally continue with alcohol use and will only start to resolve when alcohol is stopped. Acute alcoholic myopathy typically resolves on its own but may take longer to resolve or reoccur if alcohol use is not stopped.
While stopping alcohol use is the best thing someone with alcoholic myopathy can do for this condition, it may be difficult, especially if an alcohol addiction has developed. At The Recovery Village Ridgefield, we know how challenging it can be to stop using alcohol and are here to support you through this process. Contact us today to learn how we can help you stop using alcohol and start recovering from alcoholic myopathy.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does alcoholic myopathy last?
After stopping alcohol, acute alcoholic myopathy will often resolve within weeks. Chronic alcoholic myopathy, on the other hand, may take between 2 to 12 months to fully resolve. The time it takes for alcoholic myopathy to fully heal will depend on how heavily someone uses alcohol and what types of treatment are used.
Why does alcohol withdrawal cause muscle spasms?
Heavy, persistent alcohol use leads to chronic suppression of brain signals. The brain compensates for this by becoming overactive, balancing the suppressive signaling alcohol causes. When alcohol is suddenly stopped, the brain’s hyperactivity causes withdrawal symptoms that include spasms and tremors. These symptoms will continue for about a week until the brain readjusts to the absence of alcohol.
At what age does alcoholic myopathy occur?
Alcoholic myopathy can occur at any age, especially acute alcoholic myopathy. The most common age for alcoholic myopathy to occur is between about 40 and 60 years old.
What vitamins help alcoholic myopathy?
The only thing that will truly help alcoholic myopathy is stopping alcohol use. While some researchers suggest that vitamin D supplements may help, relying on vitamins instead of stopping alcohol is not a good idea. Someone with specific questions about vitamin supplementation should consult with their doctor about what options are best for their specific situation.
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