The physical effects of alcoholism are often apparent to a casual observer. Over time, an alcoholic will lose weight, have a sallow appearance, and appear tired or confused. The internal, long-term effects of alcoholism, however, are not as easy to identify, yet they are often more dangerous to an alcoholic’s health and well-being even after he stops drinking. In particular, alcoholism can result in a severe thiamine deficiency that leads to long-term brain and memory impairment.
What is Thiamine Deficiency?
Thiamine is the technical name for Vitamin B1. This Vitamin acts as an enzyme in a person’s body to break down carbohydrates, to synthesize neurotransmitters that carry messages between brain cells and nerves, and to produce genetic materials that are needed to regenerate cells. A person cannot generate thiamine and instead everyone needs to eat a certain amount of food that includes a minimum daily amount of thiamine. An alcoholic who believes that he can cure a thiamine deficiency by eating foods that are high in Vitamin B1 or by taking Vitamin supplements is fooling himself because alcohol interferes with thiamine absorption in a person’s body.
Over time, chronic thiamine deficiency impairs the ability of an alcoholic’s body to regenerate muscle and brain tissue because his body cannot metabolize nutrients without the thiamine enzyme. Acute thiamine deficiency will ultimately lead to certain forms of dementia that are characterized by confusion, paralysis of the muscles that control eye movements, and lack of coordination. As this dementia progresses into its next phase, an alcoholic who suffers from thiamine deficiency will experience severe memory impairment and an inability to form recent memories.
Treating Thiamine Deficiency
The good news is that the effects of thiamine deficiencies are at least partially reversible. Physicians and counselors should test the thiamine levels of their patients who are seeking assistance to recover from alcoholism. If thiamine levels are low, a recovering alcoholic can take increased levels of thiamine in combination with a proper diet to restore his metabolic processes to the fullest extent possible. A recovering alcoholic’s failure to receive treatment for a thiamine deficiency problem can impair the progress of his recovery efforts by weakening his mental resolve to avoid alcohol and to stay in a treatment program.
From a broader perspective, recovering alcoholics should understand that staying away from alcohol is only one part (albeit an important part) of recovering from alcoholism. A solid rehab program will lay out a plan to put a recovering alcoholic on a path to long-term sobriety, but that plan will likely be multi-faceted and complex. Recovering alcoholics will need a combination of behavioral therapy, counseling and medical treatment for depression and other psychological disorders, and treatment for physical problems, including thiamine deficiency, that are the common result of long-term alcohol use. Notwithstanding the complexity of a recovery plan, however, an alcoholic will always be better served by staying with the plan rather than going back to old self-destructive habits and ways.
The Last Resort Recovery Center near Austin, Texas, focuses on treating all aspects of an alcoholic’s recovery from his disease. Please call us at 512-360-3600 for more information about thiamine deficiencies and alcoholism, and for confidential assistance on how we can help formulate a comprehensive plan to help you recover from alcoholism.