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Can Alcohol Cause Vertigo?

While alcohol is socially accepted, excessive use can cause multiple health conditions. There are effects of alcohol that might be caused or exacerbated by heavy alcohol use, such as vertigo episodes, which is a feeling of spinning and dizziness. 

Vertigo can occur because alcohol can dehydrate inner ear fluid, impair the auditory cortex, impede balance and coordination, and impact an individual’s hearing. If you are into heavy drinking and are experiencing vertigo, your medical symptoms might be the result of alcohol use. Here’s what to know about the underlying causes of vertigo, the symptoms of vertigo, its relationship to alcohol use, and the steps you can take for addiction treatment options or treatment plans to recover from alcohol use disorder.

Vertigo

Understanding Vertigo

Vertigo is a medical condition in which a person, who could be you or your loved one, suddenly feels like the world is spinning or tilting around them. The individual might feel off-balance and like they are being pulled in a certain direction. People experiencing vertigo might also experience nystagmus, headaches, tinnitus, or hearing loss. Severe cases of vertigo can lead to nausea and vomiting. An episode of vertigo is typically short, lasting only a few seconds up to a few minutes. However, someone experiencing extreme vertigo might experience persistent symptoms that last for hours to weeks or more.

Alcohol Consumption and Vertigo

The reason why alcohol consumption is associated with vertigo is because of the way that alcohol affects the inner ear. The inner ear is comprised of the cochlea and the vestibular organ. The cochlea enables hearing, while the vestibular organ helps to control balance. It includes three canals that alert the brain about the direction of the head movements in relation to linear motion and gravity. Since alcohol is dehydrating, excessive consumption can decrease the fluids contained in the vestibular canals and can potentially have more of an impact on one ear. When the fluids are imbalanced, the ears can send the wrong signals to your brain, resulting in vertigo and hearing loss.

Inflammation in the inner ear can cause similar fluid imbalances and lead to vertigo, just like people who drink heavily can experience dizziness. This is because alcohol can affect the cells of the nervous system, leading to an individual’s lightheadedness and delayed reaction time after drinking large amounts of alcohol.

One study conducted on people with Meniere’s disease provides some support that cutting down on alcohol intake could be a treatment for vertigo. Meniere’s disease is an inner ear condition that can cause dizziness and vertigo that typically develops between the ages of 40 and 60. The study, which was conducted in 2018, found that reducing the intake of alcohol, caffeine, and salt could lessen the symptoms of Meniere’s disease. The researchers believe that alcohol acts to reduce the inner ear’s blood supply, which can make symptoms of dizziness and vertigo worse for those who have Meniere’s disease. However, the researchers also conceded that high-quality research still needs to be conducted into the effects of dietary changes on Meniere’s disease symptoms.

If someone drinks alcohol without also drinking water, they can become dehydrated because of alcohol’s diuretic effect. Dehydrated people might experience muscle cramping, dizziness, dark urine, and heart palpitations.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain

Alcohol can cause multiple negative consequences on the brain. People who regularly consume alcohol might experience a reduction in their ability to concentrate, an increased stroke risk, and a reduced ability to process information. Suppose people frequently consume large quantities of alcohol. In that case, they might develop alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD), including a form of dementia that can develop when someone is as young as 40 years old.

Another brain disorder that people can develop from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is called Werincke-Korsakoff syndrome. This condition causes people to suffer vision problems and confusion. Depression and anxiety have also been linked to excessive consumption of alcohol.

Hearing Loss and Alcohol Abuse

Another problem associated with chronic alcohol abuse is hearing loss. Long-term drinking can damage the brain’s auditory cortex, which processes auditory information. The auditory nerve transmits incoming sounds to the brain’s auditory cortex for processing the information. If someone drinks alcohol for a long period and suffers damage to the auditory cortex, they might not be able to understand what they are hearing.

One study conducted in 2007 on young people in London found that those who drank alcohol had a reduced ability to understand sounds at a low frequency. While the problem disappeared when people stopped drinking, the researchers believed that people who suffer multiple episodes after drinking could suffer permanent hearing loss.

Side Effects

You can suffer vertigo from drinking alcohol because of its diuretic effects and how it impacts the fluid balance of the fluid in the inner ear. If you also have a damaged auditory cortex, these issues can be worsened by continued drinking. Vertigo’s side effects and those of alcohol consumption can both be increased when they co-occur, including the following:

  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Swaying, tilting, or shifting sensations
  • Dizziness
  • Motion sickness sensations
  • Hearing impairment
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory loss
  • Cyanosis
  • Stupor
  • Seizures
  • Profound confusion
  • Respiratory problems
  • Coma

Alcohol’s effect on the vestibular system can occur even when someone is a moderate drinker, which could explain why some people experience balance problems after consuming alcohol.

What Other Conditions Cause Vertigo?

Vertigo is a symptom of an underlying condition and is not a separate condition by itself. Besides excessive alcohol consumption, some of the other conditions that can cause you to experience vertigo include the following:

  • Meniere’s Disease – This disorder involves an abnormal buildup of fluid in one ear, which results in partial hearing loss, a feeling of fullness, tinnitus, and vertigo. When people with Meniere’s disease drink alcohol, the symptoms can worsen when the healthy ear’s fluid reduction is not equal to the reduction in fluids in the other ear.
  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)- This is a condition in which certain head positions or movements lead to vertigo.
  • Labyrinthitis – This disorder occurs when the inner ear’s labyrinth, which contains the vestibulocochlear nerve, is inflamed or infected. The symptoms include headache, ear pain, tinnitus, hearing loss, and vision changes.
  • Upper Cervical Misalignment (UCM) – This condition involves a misalignment of the first and second cervical vertebrae in the neck, which interferes with the central nervous system and the perception of balance and spatial orientation. It can also alter how excess fluid is drained from the ears by the Eustachian tubes.
  • Cholesteatoma – Cholesteatoma is a benign growth that grows in the middle ear, typically because of repetitive ear infections. The symptoms of a cholesteatoma include nausea, blurry vision, and vertigo.
  • Vestibular Migraine – A vestibular migraine typically causes symptoms of imbalance, vomiting, nausea, and vertigo but may or might not involve a headache. While its causes are poorly understood, it is thought to be related to problems occurring in the overlapping pain and vestibular pathways to the brain.
  • Vestibular Neuritis – This disorder affects the vestibular nerve and is similar to labyrinthitis without altering the person’s ability to hear. The symptoms of vestibular neuritis typically include blurry vision, nausea, and vertigo.

When to Seek Help

If you are unable to control how much or how often you drink alcohol and are experiencing vertigo, hearing loss, or other symptoms, you might have an alcohol use disorder and should seek treatment and medical advice. The following symptoms indicate the potential presence of alcohol use disorder due to alcohol addiction:

  • Drinking despite negative consequences
  • Drinking alcohol more frequently than intended
  • Drinking more alcohol than intended
  • Drinking alcohol for more hours than intended
  • Experiencing memory loss or blackouts
  • Experiencing cravings, tremors, mental health conditions like anxiety, or other alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Experiencing hangovers frequently
  • Needing to drink first thing in the morning to avoid a hangover
  • Drinking increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effects
  • Devoting a lot of time to drinking
  • Being unable to quit drinking despite trying
  • Obsessive thoughts about when you can get the next drink

If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, you should reach out to substance abuse professionals to obtain a clinical diagnosis. Vertigo is a symptom of an underlying condition that affects the ears or brain, and excessive or chronic alcohol use can lead to vertigo and/or hearing loss. If you drink heavily and experience vertigo, it’s possible your symptoms could be alleviated if you stop drinking. However, it’s important to talk to a professional to ensure you stop drinking safely. Contact the caring professionals at Long Island Interventions today for help and to learn more.

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