Alcohol misuse can have many negative effects on the mind and the body. One of these effects is known as thiamine deficiency. Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is considered an essential nutrient in the body because it is required by all tissues for proper functioning — even the brain. A vitamin is considered essential if the body does not produce enough for its energy needs. Receiving these vitamins through diet is critical.
There are many thiamine-rich foods that people can eat to attain proper levels of this nutrient. These include meats and other high protein foods, such as beans, brown rice, and soybeans. Typically, thiamine is found in very high amounts in muscle, liver, brain, kidney and heart tissues. Thiamine is necessary for specific enzymes or proteins to break down sugars. Without enough thiamine from the diet, these tissues cannot function properly because their energy needs are not being met.
How are thiamine and alcohol use connected? In some cases, excessive alcohol use can lead to thiamine deficiency. However, there are treatment options for individuals struggling with co-occurring alcohol use and thiamine deficiency.
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How Does Alcohol Cause Thiamine Deficiency?
Can excessive alcohol use cause thiamine deficiency? The science points to yes. People who abuse alcohol can develop a thiamine deficiency for a variety of reasons. First, a person who constantly drinks alcohol generally has poor nutrition. Their diet may be poor in vitamins and minerals, or they may frequently replace meals with alcohol and not eat enough food or binge eat.
Second, alcohol consumption can inflame the lining of the stomach, making it more difficult for essential vitamins and minerals to be absorbed. In a vicious cycle, a person struggling with alcohol use may feel even less inclined to eat, become constipated or experience general illness as a consequence of thiamine deficiency.
If a thiamine deficiency continues (along with excessive alcohol consumption), individuals can go on to develop a condition known as dry or wet beriberi. Dry beriberi is defined as a condition where thiamine deficiency causes damage to the nervous system, leading to muscle weakness and other problems. Wet beriberi causes damage to the heart and circulatory system. Either condition can quickly become life-threatening if not treated.
A severe consequence of alcohol-related thiamine deficiency is called Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome. First, a person may develop what is known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which is a serious brain injury. Second, if left untreated or if insufficiently treated, this condition can develop into Korsakoff’s syndrome, which is a long-term condition involving memory loss.
The short answer is that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to thiamine deficiency. However, even if an individual develops beriberi or Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome, there are still plenty of opportunities for treatment.
Should I Drink If I Have a Thiamine Deficiency?
If a person experiences a minor thiamine deficiency due to poor nutrition or recent diet changes (but not due to excessive alcohol consumption), it is unlikely that having a drink or two would seriously damage their health. However, chronic or a major thiamine deficiency can be extremely dangerous, regardless of alcohol use. Therefore, it is not advised for anyone to drink alcohol when they are already aware of a thiamine deficiency. A thiamine deficiency has severe consequences for a person’s health.
Thiamine Deficiency and Alcoholism
The best treatment for individuals struggling with thiamine deficiency due to alcohol addiction is to simply increase their thiamine levels.
Restoring a patient’s thiamine balance may be critical for saving their life. In a 2017 study, patients with alcohol dependence were given a treatment regimen of thiamine, depending on the severity of alcohol dependence or the diagnosis of Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Patients were given varying doses of thiamine to compensate for their deficiency.
Thiamine for Alcohol Withdrawal
Thiamine can also be used as a treatment for people actively withdrawing from alcohol. Many times, individuals who are withdrawing from alcohol also have a thiamine deficiency. Particularly in patients diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome, alcohol withdrawal is a common co-occurrence.
Key Points: Alcohol and Thiamine Deficiency
Key points to keep in mind with regard to alcohol and thiamine deficiency include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption can directly cause a thiamine deficiency
- There are different degrees of severity for thiamine deficiencies in people struggling with alcohol dependence
- Thiamine deficiency can be treated by giving patients regular doses of thiamine
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction and a thiamine deficiency, please contact The Recovery Village today. A representative can help you determine the best treatment options for thiamine deficiency and a co-occurring addiction to alcohol.
Alcohol and Drug Foundation. “Alcohol related thiamine deficiency.” August 30, 2018. Accessed June 15, 2019. Dervaux, A., Laqueille, X. “Thiamine (vitamin B1) treatment in patients with alcohol dependence.” Presse Med, March 2017. Accessed June 2019. Martin, Peter; Singleton, Charles; Hiller–Sturmhöfel, Susanne. “The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2003. Accessed June 15, 2019.
Alcohol and Drug Foundation. “Alcohol related thiamine deficiency.” August 30, 2018. Accessed June 15, 2019.
Dervaux, A., Laqueille, X. “Thiamine (vitamin B1) treatment in patients with alcohol dependence.” Presse Med, March 2017. Accessed June 2019.
Martin, Peter; Singleton, Charles; Hiller–Sturmhöfel, Susanne. “The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2003. Accessed June 15, 2019.