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  • Alcoholic myopathy (or alcoholic muscle disease) is a condition brought on by long-term or heavy alcohol consumption. It leads to muscle weakness and dysfunction in the skeletal muscles. 

    It can occur when someone is still heavily drinking or in the first days of alcohol withdrawal.  It’s brought on by malnutrition that comes with heavy drinking, as well as the body’s inability to absorb nutrients due to alcohol use.

    Causes Of Alcoholic Myopathy

    As the name suggests, the main cause of alcoholic myopathy is chronic alcohol abuse or binge drinking. The long-term ingestion of alcohol has a toxic effect on the body and can cause a lot of damage.

    Chronic Alcoholism & Malnutrition

    In alcohol-related myopathy, alcohol leads to malnutrition by limiting the body’s ability to absorb and use certain nutrients. 

    This causes damage to the muscle fibers and cells over time which brings on the symptoms most associated with alcoholic myopathy. The more ethanol/alcohol in the body, the more damage and the less muscle strength.

    Alcoholic myopathy can lead to alcoholic cardiomyopathy if it affects the heart, and alcoholic skeletal myopathy if it affects the skeletal muscles.

    Symptoms Of Alcoholic Myopathy

    The symptoms of alcoholic myopathy can be very serious. If not treated, it can lead to more severe conditions and even death. 

    Common symptoms of alcoholic myopathy may include:

    • loss of muscle strength
    • ​proximal muscle weakness
    • muscle tenderness
    • muscle pain
    • loss of muscle mass
    • muscle atrophy
    • muscle function abnormalities like twitches, tics, or spasms
    • cramping
    • stiffness
    • darkened urine
    • sensitivity to heat

    Long-Term Risks Of Alcoholic Myopathy

    Some of the long-term risks that may occur when alcoholic myopathy isn’t treated include:

    • cardiomyopathy or weakening of the heart muscle
    • heart failure
    • degeneration or destruction of organ tissue
    • cirrhosis
    • stroke
    • peripheral neuropathy
    • liver disease
    • heart attack
    • necrosis of  muscle tissue
    • arrhythmia

    Treatment Of Alcoholic Myopathy

    Abstaining from drinking alcohol is the only way to prevent alcoholic myopathy, and quitting drinking for an extended period of time is one of the only ways to treat it. The damage and symptoms are reversible as long as the person stops drinking long enough for everything to heal. 

    Healing likely takes about a week or two for acute alcoholic myopathy and a few weeks to months for chronic alcoholic myopathy.

    Death can occur if the condition is not treated and acute renal failure sets in.

    Medical Care & Tests

    Simply quitting alcohol on your own is not recommended. Seeking treatment from your doctor or another healthcare provider is advised. They will likely run tests to ensure alcoholic myopathy is the problem and that there aren’t any other underlying issues.

    They’re likely to test your urine for myoglobin (which turns urine a brown color) and run a blood test for heightened levels of the kinase enzyme. They may also take blood to check for muscle fibers (also known as rhabdomyolysis).

    Nutritional Support

    Additionally,  nutritional support may also be recommended to combat malnutrition and help in the recovery of damaged muscle cells. Thiamine, vitamin A, calcium, vitamin D, and folate are the most common nutrients lacking in those with alcoholic myopathy. 

    Alcohol Addiction Treatment

    Addiction treatment programs for alcohol use disorder are available on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Since heavy alcohol use was the main cause of alcoholic myopathy, inpatient care may be recommended.

    Inpatient alcohol rehab programs use varying treatment services to address you as a whole person, including mental health care, medications, behavioral therapy, peer support, and more.

    For information on our treatment programs and services, please connect with us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on July 3, 2022
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