Alcoholic Myopathy

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. Myopathy can occur as its own disease, caused by genetics, but can also occur due to another condition. Myopathy can lead to weakness or complete inability to use certain muscles.

What Is Alcoholic Myopathy?

Alcoholic myopathy is a muscle disease caused by alcohol use. Alcoholic myopathy 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.

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:

  • Numbness
  • Abnormal sensations
  • Pain
  • 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. 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
  • Fatigue

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.

Alcoholic Myopathy Treatment

There is only one way to reverse alcoholic myopathy effectively — 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 help and support you through this process. Contact us today to learn how we can help you stop using alcohol and start recovering from alcoholic myopathy.

Simon, Liz; Jolley, Sarah E.; & Molina, Patricia E. “Alcoholic Myopathy: Pathophysiologic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications.” Alcohol Research, 2017. Accessed June 25, 2022. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Myopathy.” April 25, 2022. Accessed June 25, 2022. Lanska, Douglas J. “Alcoholic myopathy.” MedLink Neurology, September 7, 2021. Accessed June 25, 2022. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Rhabdomyolysis.” April 22, 2019. Accessed June 25, 2022. Bethel, Courtney A. “Myopathies.” Medscape, December 28, 2017. Accessed June 25, 2022. Chopra, Kanwaljit & Tiwari, Vinod. “Alcoholic neuropathy: possible mechanisms and future treatment possibilities.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, March 2012. Accessed June 25, 2022. Campellone, Joseph V. “Alcoholic neuropathy.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, May 4, 2021. Accessed June 25, 2022. Bethel, Courtney A. “Myopathies.” Medscape, December 28, 2017. Accessed June 25, 2022. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Rhabdomyolysis.” August 3, 2021. Accessed June 25, 2022. Peters, T. J.; Martin, F. & Ward, K. “Chronic alcoholic skeletal myopathy–common and reversible.” Alcohol, June 1985. Accessed June 25, 2022. Chaudhuri, A. & Behan, P. O. “Alcoholic Myopathy.” Management of Chronic Problems, 1999. Accessed June 25, 2022.