Alcohol-Induced Thiamine Deficiency

An alcohol-induced thiamine deficiency damages a person’s body along with his or her personal and work lives. If your bodily systems cannot work efficiently because of excessive alcohol consumption, your physical health will suffer. Continued use of alcohol doesn’t just lead to bodily inefficiency. It also leads to Beriberi, a condition that affects the nervous system and the cardiovascular system. Knowing how this condition begins will help you prevent it and will lead you toward regaining your health.

Thiamine in alcohol

What Is Thiamine?

Thiamine is also known as “Vitamin B1,” and you can only get it from the foods that you eat. The body cannot produce this nutrient, so if you are going to maintain healthy levels of thiamine, you must get it from your foods. The body needs thiamine for processes performed by the central nervous system, digestive system and the brain. For example, thiamine helps the brain synthesize acetylcholine so that it doesn’t experience issues with memory loss.

Thiamine also assists in the production of stomach acid that helps the body take nutrients from your food so that it can produce energy. It also maintains a healthy, productive digestive system. In addition to all of the above, thiamine is responsible for regulating your metabolism and preventing you from experiencing constipation. Thiamine also ensures that your nerve cells and muscles receive the electrolytes they need so that they can regulate the functioning of your nerves and maintain balance within the body.

If you are not receiving enough thiamine through your diet, you have the option of supplementing it with a multivitamin. Unfortunately, this is not sufficient when you are experiencing a severe alcohol use disorder. Thiamine deficiency is the result of heavy alcohol use, and this can be the cause of several dangerous conditions if it isn’t treated.

What Is the Result of a Thiamine Deficiency?

As people’s alcohol use disorders progress, taking care of themselves is low on their list of priorities. At the top of their priorities is the ability to procure alcohol and consume as much as they need and want. This means that eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is less of a concern.

Drinking also damages the body internally. The stomach lining wears down with heavy drinking, and this interferes with the digestive process. It causes inflammation of the stomach and an erosion of the stomach and digestive tract. After this occurs, it is difficult for the body to extract nutrients and vitamins from the foods that you eat.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Neurons within the brain need thiamine to function properly. The neurological disorder known as “Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome” or WKS has been determined to be caused by thiamine deficiency. WKS leads to Wernicke’s encephalopathy or WE, a temporary condition that can be quite severe. WKS can also lead to Korsakoff’s psychosis, and this is a more permanent condition.

Most Americans receive enough thiamine in their diets to ward off WE. This is why the majority of the population diagnosed with WE have an alcohol use disorder. Symptoms of this condition include the inability to coordinate one’s movements, paralysis of the eye muscles and mental confusion.

Korsakoff’s Psychosis

Approximately 80% to 90% of those with an alcohol use disorder develop Korsakoff’s psychosis. This is a chronic condition that causes impairments in memory and behavioral abnormalities. People with this condition have difficulties remembering their pasts, but they also begin to have trouble learning new information.

The Signs of a Thiamine Deficiency

The following signs present themselves at the beginning of a thiamine deficiency:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite

In the event that the thiamine deficiency continues, you can develop Beriberi. Beriberi causes brain damage in those experiencing an alcohol use disorder.

Replacing Thiamine for a Healthier Body

Thiamine delivered intravenously has been shown to completely reverse the effects of WE. When people receive this treatment as they are only presenting one or two of the symptoms of WE, medical professionals can prevent them from experiencing the severest form of the condition. In the past, people would not receive this treatment if they weren’t presenting all three symptoms described above. This is highly important because leaving this condition untreated leads to permanent brain damage.

Treatment for Thiamine Deficiency

Thiamine deficiency is a condition that remains untreated in a majority of the people. Because of this, the condition is allowed to become very serious, and it doesn’t have to happen. If the condition is discovered early, a thiamine deficiency can be treated with supplements. This would be insufficient for someone with an alcohol use disorder.

When you are experiencing an alcohol use disorder, your body may be unable to absorb thiamine because of the damage that alcohol has caused. Therefore, the first thing that you would need to do is get help for your alcohol use disorder. In treatment, we will help you understand the underlying reasons for your alcohol use disorder, and we will address your dietary needs so that we can attend to your physical well-being as well.


You or your loved one may need to enter a detoxification program before you will be ready to receive therapy for your substance use disorder. That is because, after several years of alcohol use, the body does not allow you to suddenly stop drinking a regular dose of alcohol. This would result in several withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms can be very severe, such as seizures and hallucinations. The medical community does not advise that you enter the detoxification process on your own because of these serious and disturbing symptoms. After you complete the detoxification process, you will be able to obtain further therapy at Long Island Interventions.

We have several options for you at Long Island Interventions. You may be the most comfortable entering an inpatient program where you will receive individual counseling, group therapy, dual diagnosis treatment, and holistic treatment. The inpatient program is a residential program, but you may be able to enter an outpatient program if your alcohol use disorder is relatively new. Contact us at Long Island Interventions to learn how we can help you in this fight to regain your sobriety.

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