Thiamine Deficiency and Alcohol

Thiamine, also called thiamin or vitamin B1, is found in numerous foods and can be taken as a medication or supplement when someone has a thiamine deficiency. People often wonder what thiamine does for the body. Thiamine plays an important role in a person’s health because it converts food into energy and is required by all tissues in the body to properly operate.

Many people consume most of their thiamine through foods such as meat, poultry, nuts, dried beans, peas, soybeans and whole-grain cereals such as brown rice. Bread also includes thiamine but not as much as other foods mentioned. The consumption of these foods allows thiamine to enter the body and interact with different tissues, in which thiamine is crucial for processing simple carbs because it metabolizes glucose

Severe alcohol misuse is one cause of a thiamine deficiency and such a deficiency can lead to delirium or damage a person’s brain, which can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome or alcohol-induced dementia. Understanding the relationship between alcohol and thiamine is important for anyone who struggles with alcoholism or has a loved one that is addicted to alcohol. Since alcohol use can result in a thiamine deficiency, preventing harmful substance use and treating  an addiction as quickly as possible can help maintain a person’s long-term health.

Thiamine and Alcohol

Because the human body is unable to produce thiamine on its own, people must consume foods or other substances that contain thiamine to stay healthy. A thiamine deficiency is a disease that occurs when the brain and other tissues do not receive the proper amount of vitamin B1. When a thiamine deficiency occurs, it can be attributed to numerous causes:

  • A diet of mostly white rice
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Taking large amounts of diuretics, which increases the body’s production of urine
  • Regularly consuming alcohol

Humans need a minimum of 0.33 milligrams of thiamine for every 1,000 kilocalories the body consumes. People who consume around 2,000 kilocalories a day need at least 0.66 milligrams of thiamine. A study titled “Thiamine Deficiency and Delirium” that was published on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website suggests that women intake 1.1 milligrams of thiamine each day and men consume 1.2 milligrams. Children require less than adults do each day, while higher levels of thiamine intake are recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Medical professionals may diagnose someone with a thiamine deficiency by noting specific symptoms and low levels of the nutrient in a person’s urine. Some of the most common symptoms of a thiamine deficiency include:

  • Decreased appetite.
  • Confusion.
  • Dysfunction of eye muscles.
  • Difficulty with balance.
  • Fatigue.
  • Tingling sensation in limbs.
  • Muscle weakness.

If someone is suffering from these symptoms, a physician can help determine if they have a thiamine deficiency and, if so, the best course of action to take. By improving one’s diet to increase thiamin intake it allows tissues to convert the nutrient into the energy that is needed by the body.

There is a link between thiamine and alcohol, specifically how the latter blocks the former from creating energy for the body. People who struggle with alcohol misuse likely consume thiamine through their diets, but the vitamin is not transferred to other areas of the body, as needed. In the small and large intestines, alcohol blocks the absorption of thiamine into the energy that other areas of the body rely on. Since the body does not naturally generate vitamins, a deficiency can arise when thiamine is blocked in the intestines.

People who are addicted to alcohol rely on the substance to function properly. As a person’s alcohol tolerance grows, they are able to drink more without feeling sick. The more alcohol that is consumed, and the more consistently someone drinks, the more likely it is that they develop a thiamine deficiency is.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, autopsy studies reveal that around 13 percent of people who struggle with alcohol misuse also exhibit the characteristics of a thiamine deficiency. However, the institute reported that only 20 percent of these people were diagnosed with the disorder before their death, suggesting that a thiamine deficiency can be difficult to identify. The most common abnormalities reported include lesions in certain brain areas: the mammillary bodies, thalamus, hypothalamus, brain stem and cerebellum.

People who struggle with alcohol require a direct thiamine intake so that the nutrient reaches the necessary areas of the body. Thiamine supplements can be administered numerous ways, although most medical professionals recommend doing so either directly into the veins or muscles. Administering a thiamine supplement by mouth can result in the same conversion difficulties that happen with the intake of foods and liquids because alcohol disrupts the vitamin from reaching key areas of the body.

The World Health Organization lists the amounts of thiamine supplements that should be administered in specific situations. In cases of a mild deficiency, an oral, 10-milligram dose during the first week of treatment and  3- to 5-milligram doses following the first week can provide the body with an adequate amount of the vitamin. When a severe deficiency is present, an intramuscular or intravenous 10-milligram dose for the first week and 3- to 5-milligram doses in following weeks is recommended.

If you or someone you know has shown symptoms of a thiamine deficiency, contact a physician to receive a proper diagnosis and begin treatment. Since the regular consumption of alcohol can cause a thiamine deficiency in a person, an addiction to alcohol could be the underlying cause of the deficiency. Treatment of a substance use disorder related to alcohol is available at a facility like The Recovery Village, which is a network of rehabilitation centers located throughout the United States. Medical professionals can administer thiamine as necessary to treat for a deficiency while patients detox from alcohol and plan a treatment program based on their individual needs. Specialists at the facilities also can help patients understand the relationship between alcohol addiction and thiamine, including how dietary changes and a decrease in alcohol consumption can eliminate the deficiency.

An addiction to alcohol can create many health problems, including a thiamine deficiency. The best course of action is finding treatment as soon as possible to protect your physical and mental wellness.