Alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy: nutritional, toxic, or both?

Muscle Nerve. 2011 Mar;43(3):309-16. doi: 10.1002/mus.21946.


Alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy (ALN) is a potentially debilitating complication of alcoholism that results in sensory, motor, and autonomic dysfunction. Unfortunately, ALN is rarely discussed as a specific disease entity in textbooks because it is widely assumed to primarily reflect consequences of nutritional deficiency. This hypothesis is largely based on observations first made over eight decades ago when it was demonstrated that thiamine deficiency (beriberi) neuropathy was clinically similar to ALN. In recent studies, failure of thiamine treatment to reverse ALN, together with new information demonstrating clinical and electrophysiological distinctions between ALN and nutritional deficiency neuropathies, suggests that alcohol itself may significantly predispose and enhance development of neuropathy in the appropriate clinical setting. We reviewed the evidence on both sides and conclude that ALN should be regarded as a toxic rather than nutritional neuropathy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Neuropathy / etiology
  • Alcoholic Neuropathy / metabolism*
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Ethanol / poisoning*
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Status / drug effects
  • Nutritional Status / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / metabolism*
  • Thiamine Deficiency / complications
  • Thiamine Deficiency / metabolism


  • Ethanol