Thiamine Deficiency and Alcoholism

Thiamine Deficiency and Alcoholism

If you drink alcohol excessively, it places a heavy burden on your body’s organs. Prolonged use can result in thiamine deficiency. Here is a look at how vital thiamine is, ways alcohol reduces thiamine production, and how you can incur Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. 

What is Thiamine?

Thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1, converts the food you consume into energy. Your body does not produce it, meaning you receive it through the foods you eat (think nuts, beef, whole grain items, and eggs.) Alternatively, you can use thiamine supplements to ensure you have enough.

How Does Alcohol Impact Thiamine?

Up to 80% of those addicted to drinking will experience thiamine deficiency. How this works is when you consume alcohol, it inflames your body’s digestive system. In turn, your body struggles to absorb vitamins. It results in your body becoming deficient in Vitamin B1. 

Symptoms of Thiamine Deficiency

Thiamine deficiency’s initial symptoms are nausea, a loss of appetite, or constipation. Therefore, it can be easy to confuse these with other illnesses. However, there are other traits this deficiency carries, such as:

  • Blurry vision
  • Fluctuating heart rates 
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Shortness of breath
  • You might also experience tingling sensations in your extremities (arms, legs)

Over time, it could lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. 

What is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, also known as Wet Brain, occurs when the body experiences prolonged deficiencies of Vitamin B1 due to excessive alcohol use. As your body doesn’t receive the thiamine it needs, it affects the brain’s hypothalamus and thalamus. People with this condition experience confusion, low blood pressure, difficulties with muscle coordination, and in the most severe cases, coma. 

Moreover, there are two phases to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s syndrome. Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a severe condition, as your brain doesn’t possess the nutrients it needs to function well, resulting in the symptoms listed above. However, you can reverse the effects of this by discontinuing alcohol and being on a thiamine supplement.

Meanwhile, Korsakoff’s syndrome can damage nerve cells supporting the brain and spine. As a result, symptoms include tremors, amnesia, becoming disoriented, and coma. 

How to Treat Thiamine Deficiency

You can treat thiamine deficiency by refraining from drinking alcohol and using thiamine supplements. However, if you drink for a prolonged time, quitting cold turkey is unwise. It could result in severe withdrawal symptoms due to your brain not having time to acclimate to the changes. It is where professional help can be beneficial.

Our team designs a treatment track to meet your needs. It includes one-on-one therapy, nutrition counseling, facilitating 12 Steps, and more. Discover how we can help you take the steps towards a healthier future.